Back to articles

Adventist Health creates sock bonanza for the homeless

Elizabeth Hayes Spirit

As seen in the Portland Business Journal.

After Terry Johnsson took over as Adventist Health's executive director for mission a few years ago, he had an epiphany.

He was walking his dog around his downtown Portland neighborhood and noticed that many of the homeless people he encountered weren’t wearing shoes and socks.

Johnsson knew that East Portland hospital's emergency room deals with a host of foot problems, especially in the winter, including trench foot, skin infections and frostbite.

Since the health system had already formed a partnership with the Portland Rescue Mission, Johnson mentioned his observation about the lack of footwear to the executive director. What Johnsson learned surprised him.

“He said, socks are a big, big commodity in Portland,” Johnsson recalled. “People will steal socks if they’re clean and dry. So many homeless people take their socks off at night and put them underneath them.”

The revelation also sparked an idea. For the previous nine years, Adventist has thrown a community concert for employees and the community, with the price of admission being canned goods for the Oregon Food Bank. So Johnson asked for sock donations in addition to the canned goods. He figured they’d collect about 500 pairs.

Instead, they collected 3,000 pairs for the Rescue Mission. This year, they collected another 3,200 pairs.

With up to 1,000 people coming through the organization's Burnside shelter each day, the need is huge, said Rob Anderson, director of partnership at the Rescue Mission.

"We go through thousands of socks in a winter period, so we’re super grateful," Anderson said. "Instead of just handing them out on the street, we get to have people come in, and we learn their name and their story and we offer more than socks and begin that journey of hope and restoration."

While the collection ended after Thanksgiving, the Rescue Mission will accept donations of socks, blankets or cash at any time.

Photo caption: Terry Johnsson, executive director for mission at Adventist Health in Portland, left; David Russell, president and CEO of Adventist Medical Center in Portland, center; and Rob Anderson, director of partnership at the Portland Rescue Mission, stand by some of the 3,000 pair of socks the hospital collected for the homeless.