SURREY — Carolyn Colwell excitedly pulls a cardboard box out of her SUV in Cloverdale.
In the box? Socks.
It’s not the socks themselves that delight her but instead, what they represent.
You see, these socks are destined to end up on the feet of Surrey’s homeless.
And she is the reason.
In 2013, Colwell began a “buy-one-donate-one” sock company.
Two years later, more than 6,000 pairs have been donated to those living on Surrey’s streets.
On this particular day, Colwell was dropping off about 200 pairs to Cloverdale’s homeless shelter.
“To comfort someone’s foot, it just gives them hope,” she muses. “It’s about walking around when they’re on the street and in these bad situations and have nothing. People don’t think of socks and it gives them that comfort to walk that next step.”
The socks have a practical function, of course, she adds.
“If you talk to any firefighter or police officer who works on the Downtown East Side, they’ll tell you how badly socks are needed.
“You see people with bags on their feet. We have a wet climate and they don’t have anything to cover their feet.
“There’s a lot of diseases that can happen with feet, and they get sores and blisters and things.”
But let’s go back to the beginning of the story.
How did a Surrey high school counsellor with 15 years under her belt end up running a business that donates socks?
It all began when she and her husband, both dual U.S. and Canadian citizens, decided to move to Lynden, WA.
They did so with a desire to live in a small town.
Colwell took a one-year leave of absence from her counselling work to do so. But she quickly got bored, began volunteering and, as it would happen, one day ended up at a charity event where she saw hundreds of homeless people.
What did they all want?
Colwell said she hadn’t realized they were such a hot commodity until that moment.
So, she went home, still seeing the faces of those she’d met – and couldn’t get her mind off her sons’ socks.
“My boys – they’re 17, almost 15 and 12 – and they started wearing these really brightly coloured crew socks. It became what they were wearing when they played their sports. I went home from the event and saw their drawer full of socks and thought, ‘This is crazy.’
“It weighed on my heart, to do something for them.”
That’s when the lightbulb went on.
“It’s kind of like Toms shoes,” she says of the concept. “Buy one, give one.”
After doing some research, designing a logo and coming up with the name, Your City Sports, they began selling socks adorned with city skylines – Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, to name a few.
In early 2014, they began selling them at sports tournaments and quickly had requests for custom socks.
“At first I said no, but then I thought, why not? One thing led to another and we began doing custom socks for team logos, for businesses, sports teams, clubs, schools, and it really took off toward the summer of 2014. That’s become the bulk of our work.”
She said it’s been important to her that the socks are donated where the orders come from.
And Surrey’s been their biggest customer with orders coming from high schools such as Lord Tweedsmuir, Surrey Christian and Holy Cross and sports groups such as Drive Basketball.
But business is also booming in the U.S., and they recently received an order for 700 pairs from a lacrosse club in Yellowknife.
“The 700 donated pairs were sent to a youth shelter, a women’s shelter and a men’s shelter. I think that’s sort of the mission for us – to grow it so it reaches every community. A lot of people want to give back and this is a very easy way to do it.”
All told, the business has donated 33,558 pairs of socks. And counting.
“When I realized we’ve given so many, I thought, ‘Wow. Maybe it is making a difference.’”
She recalled a woman approaching her outside a Whalley shelter as she was on her way in, asking if she would be delivering socks that day. Street people knew of Colwell and waited anxiously for the socks, the woman told her.
“I feel very privileged to be able to contribute to that,” she says, “to be fulfilling the need I recognized.
“I think I jumped with this, I took a chance and it seems to be definitely a passion for me now. You never know where life is going to take you.”
For her contributions, Colwell was recently recognized as a Hero of the Homeless by the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society.
“It was really neat,” she says of receiving the award. “I’m not one who likes to be the centre of attention. I’m humbled and honoured but really I’ve been called to do this. I feel privileged.”
At least for now, she can’t envision herself going back to counselling.
“I loved it,” she said of her former career, which included work at Surrey high schools West Whalley, North Surrey and Lord Tweedsmuir over the years.
“It was similar work in a way.
“You’re helping people. If someone had asked me five years ago if I’d be selling socks, I would’ve thought, ‘No way.’ But now, I can’t imagine not seeing it through,” Colwell says.
“I think it’s the constant care for people that are homeless that will give them that extra sense of hope. Hope to have a better life.”
For more details, visit Yourcitysports.com.