Client Spotlight: Knock Knock Give a Sock

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Knock Knock Give a Sock works to destigmatize our perception of homelessness by using socks as a means to facilitate connections between those in need and those interested in change-making. Today, we spoke with Adina Lichtman, the nonprofit’s founder and our neighbor at the Centre for Social Innovation.

Where did you get the idea for Knock Knock Give a Sock?

When I was a sophomore in college, I was giving out sandwiches to people who were experiencing homelessness. One man approached me and said “Ma’am, it’s so nice you’re giving out sandwiches, but one thing I could actually really use is a pair of socks.” I smiled and replied “Alright, I’ll see what I can do.” In about 15 minutes, I had collected over 40 pairs of socks. The next day, I decided to encourage someone on each floor of my building to do the same.

Let’s fast forward to my senior year of college. KKGS had spread to over 20 college campuses and collected over 50,000 pairs of socks. Our name “Knock Knock Give a Sock” was cute because we were knocking on doors collecting socks. Our slogan was cute, too: “meet your neighbors while meeting the needs of others”. I would walk through New York City and see all my neighbors. While this was great, the people who were collecting socks for Knock Knock give a Sock were meeting their neighbors who were living down the halls from them and in the building next to them. They weren't meeting their neighbors on the streets, experiencing homelessness or visiting their local shelters. So, I decided to rent out a classroom and bring fifty of my college classmates who had helped me collect socks and fifty people who were experiencing homelessness to have dinner side by side.

How did this change how people perceive homelessness?

At that dinner, there were college students who would say to me “Adina, we can’t tell who is homeless and who is not.” They were meeting mothers with three kids who couldn’t afford childcare, and dads who were working in the shelter system for minimum wage. They were meeting men who had just gotten out of prison and couldn’t get jobs afterwards.

Street homelessness is only 5% of homelessness in New York City. Many people are unaware that 50% of people that age out of the foster care system will end up homeless within 6 months. These people were never adopted, never felt wanted, and then after they become a legal adult, they are just dropped from the system. 50% of them end up homeless within 6 months. 1 in 5 children in the New York City public school system will be homeless before they reach 5th grade, or will have experienced it at some point. These are not the pictures people imagine when we hear “homelessness.”

How did you move this into a corporate setting?

After I started hosting this dinner, I knew that this is what I wanted to do, but I wanted to change the way people saw homelessness in a corporate space. Now we go over to companies and say, “Hey, do you know socks are the most needed but least donated article of clothing for people that are experiencing homelessness? I would love if you could host a sock drive in your office.” The response is pretty great. It is pretty easy. After the company hosts a sock drive, we then offer for fifty employees and fifty of the recipients of their sock donations to have a dinner side by side.

What is 52 weeks and 52 asks?

When I started working with Good Counsel, they were facilitating a program called 52 Weeks, 52 Asks in which nonprofits would develop a plan to ask one person a week for a donation.

It is really difficult for me to ask people for money, however, it is really important as part of my job, running a nonprofit. It is much easier to hide behind a computer screen and fill out a grant and pray that something comes out of it. After I finished the program, I learned to lean into the discomfort.

Why do you think there are such negative perceptions about homelessness, and how does Knock Knock Give a Sock help?

We never think about what it feels like to be from one of those neighborhoods and walk around the financial district, or walk around Wall Street. Imagine now you are in that position and you are walking around one of those areas but you can say “wait, I know somebody who works in one of these buildings.” These divisions don’t seem so far away. We are all part of the same world.

For me, there’s this whole group of people trying to end homelessness, really putting in work day in and day out. There’s a whole community of people that are homeless. But, in between, there’s nothing; I have a bunch of theories on why.

How do you suggest people give?

People ask me this all the time. I say, “It’s your money, everyone is entitled to do what they want with their money. But how are you going to give the money?” If you give a dollar but you don't look the person in the eye, then your dollar meant nothing. If you don't give any money but say “I’m so sorry I don’t have any change on me but I hope you have a great day,” it would be the same as if you gave 100 dollars. It’s wild what happens. So what I try to teach people is it’s not about what you give, but about how you give.

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