Headed into a Wake Forest basketball game, a Deacons fan puts socks in one of donation bins for the Hanesbrands sock drive for the homeless in 2015.

A modest goal of providing some comfort to homeless people — through new socks — in Hanesbrands Inc.’s backyard has mushroomed since 2009 into a national effort, with more than 3 million pairs donated to date.

The apparel manufacturer, based in Winston-Salem, plans to donate more than 250,000 pairs nationally during December, along with providing a pair for every order placed during the month at www.hanes.com.

Locally, the Hanes National Sock Drive is expected to donate 3,000 pairs to the Bethesda Center, Salvation Army, Samaritan Ministries and Winston-Salem Rescue Mission. The donation initiative also includes Cooperative Community Ministry in Thomasville.

“We’re so thankful to Hanesbrands for providing 3,000 pairs of socks, said Jan Kelly with Samaritan Ministries in Winston-Salem. “Our soup kitchen and shelter guests will enjoy wearing brand new socks this winter.”

Hanesbrands started the program after hearing from groups that serve the homeless and those in high-poverty areas that socks are the most needed — but least donated — article of clothing.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 553,742 people experienced homelessness on at least one night in 2017. About 65% of those individuals were in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs, while 35% were in unsheltered locations.

“Most of us take basic apparel for granted, but we know a new, clean pair of socks can mean a lot to those experiencing homelessness,” said Sidney Falken, Hanesbrands’ chief branding officer.

“We are committed to bringing a little comfort to those who need it most — and it is incredibly gratifying to have others, including many individuals across the country, join us in this effort,” Falken said.

As the annual sock drive expanded nationally, Hanesbrands and the nonprofit groups added men’s and women’s underwear to the offerings.

A Hanesbrands website,’ www.hanessockdrive.com, website provides consumers with the ability to donate money to provide socks ($1 contribution), women’s underwear ($1), men’s underwear ($1.50) and bras ($6) that will be distributed in needed styles and sizes.

Over time, the sock drive caught the attention of Mark Horvath, a tireless advocate for the homeless with his Invisible People initiative.

Invisible People uses innovative storytelling, educational resources and advocacy to help change how the public views homelessness and those living homeless in the United States and abroad.

Hanesbrands also is partnering with Covenant House to provide homeless youth with more than 28,000 pairs of socks and 3,700 pairs of underwear through the national sock drive.

Covenant House is the largest provider of shelter and services to young people experiencing homelessness in the Americas. Every night, nearly 2,000 youth sleep in a Covenant House bed at its 31 locations across the U.S., Canada and Latin America.

“We’re grateful to Hanes for providing our kids with these essentials,” said Kevin Ryan, Covenant House’s president and chief executive.

“It means even more to them because this gift is coming at holiday time, when our kids really need to know there are people out there who care about them,” Ryan said.

As part of its national sock drive, Hanes is providing the public with an opportunity to make a financial contribution to Covenant House to help it serve more young people who are currently homeless. Donations to Covenant House can be made through the national sock drive.

Hanesbrands’ sock drive has inspired a significant local push, with high schools in some years competing to donate the most socks, collecting donations at extracurricular sports and holiday events.

Student involvement comes primarily through clubs and sports teams, along with appeals to faculty and parents. Socks are donated directly or through fundraising efforts to buy socks.

Hanesbrands also has collaborated with the Wake Forest’s athletics department and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets for collections during the 10-year campaign.

A new partnership that began in 2018 with Rainier Fruit Co., known as “Pears for Pairs” campaign, has Harris Teeter and Wegmans among participating grocers. Through January, Rainier is donating a portion of the proceeds from bulk and bagged pear sales to the sock drive.

Salvation Army officials said socks are a year-round need for most people, particularly those with health issues.

For example, socks play a crucial role in helping diabetics avoid cutting or bruising their feet, which can lead to sores, foot ulcers and amputation of toes and feet in extreme situations.

Having chronically sore feet, made worse by a lack of socks, can be a major obstacle for some people in maintaining a job or taking care of basic needs.

“The donation is about more than just the physical socks — for some of the people we serve, receiving something as simple as a clean pair of socks can have a positive effect on their overall well-being,” the local Salvation Army said in a statement.

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