New startup puts warm foot forward against homelessness

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By Nathaniel Crouch

Over the winter break, a new vending machine was installed in the Podium Building, located beside the Hub Café. This new machine doesn’t sell the usual sodas or snacks. Instead, it’s vending out socks. 

Sock Footage, a Toronto-based startup, partnered with Ryerson to bring the new machine onto campus. The machine sells socks with a wide variety of sizes and designs. The startup behind the vending machine has gotten a lot of media attention from its donation policy. For every pair of socks a consumer buys at the vending machine or on their website, one pair is donated to a homeless shelter in the GTA. 

Marissa Sheff started Sock Footage after five years as a corporate account manager in the sock industry. She also volunteered for nearly 10 years at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) onsite library. “A really important part of my upbringing was to be charitable. I spent a lot of time volunteering at CAMH, facilitating a board game night with the clients.” While volunteering, Sheff met many individuals suffering from mental health and addiction issues.  “A lot of that is closely in touch with homelessness. People would come off the streets into the library to hang out,” Sheff said.

In 2018, the Toronto Street Needs Assessment provided a snapshot of the scope and profile of the city’s homeless population. According to the report, there are over 8,700 homeless people in the streets of Toronto and over 20 per cent of their medical problems are related to foot health. Since walking is a primary form of transportation, good foot health is imperative to access food, shelter, medical care and other community services. 

According to Canada Helps, charities cannot accept used socks for sanitary purposes and new socks are the least donated items of clothing yet one of the most needed items. Socks keep feet dry, free from disease and warm. The website also discusses how doubling up a pair of socks would help a donated pair of boots fit much better, helping recipients through snowy winter days. 

After seeing information online about the sock shortage, Sheff combined her volunteering experiences and the connections she had to wholesale distributors within the sock industry to start Sock Footage. The startup’s vending machine on campus is the first physical place of sale for the startup and there are future plans for installation at other universities in Toronto.

Sock Footage is in partnership with Socks 4 Souls Canada, a Toronto-based charity organization. There are two options outlined for those who purchase socks: a donation can be made on your behalf to Socks 4 Souls Canada and they will redistribute it to homeless shelters in the GTA. The second option is having a pair shipped out with your purchase for a face-to-face donation. The artwork was done by Taylor Khand and the machine has a box on the side for direct donations to Socks 4 Souls Canada. 

“We’ve also started a little movement with those who’ve donated in person, having them make videos after donating, what it feels like with the #payitfootward and trying to break down some of the stigma related to homelessness,” Sheff said.

She understands donating socks isn’t what is going to end Toronto homelessness; however, it’s a good place to start, as donating can normalize interactions. “[Donating] hopefully creates connections between those of us who don’t generally often talk to individuals on the street and will have people realize that we are all human, just because one of us went one way and another the other. We need to be mindful of that.” 

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