TOEvember aims to help Mineral County's homeless
Karen Bondurant and bartender Debby Norris proudly show off their over flowing box of new socks for the charitable organization called TOEvember. This is the fourth year the Talking Bird in St. Regis has participated and they are hoping next year to get a drop box at one of the bars in Superior to have some friendly competition. (Amy Quinlivan/Mineral Independent)
By AMY QUINLIVAN
Charitable giving is a common practice during the holiday season.
For the past few years a new giving opportunity has found its way to Mineral County through the ties of friendship and a mutual concern for others.
That’s what St. Regis resident Karen Bondurant and her good friend from back in high school, Matt Hammerstrom have seen firsthand.
Bondurant and Hammerstrom attended school together in Everett, Washington.
“We went to high school together," Bondurant said. "He's from my brother's class of '86. Most of my brother's friends from back then became mine. We actually met at a party, and when he asked my name, I said Bertha. He called me that for a bit until I let him off the hook. Been pals ever since.”
The two have kept in touch over the years and recently Bondurant has started participating in Hammerstrom’s donation project called TOEvember. It's a group of volunteers who collect new socks for the homeless during the month of November.
“I just know he was looking for a way to help," Bondurant said. "Matt was reaching out to all of us old friends, and my boyfriend and I immediately wanted to help because it's awful to be homeless, but unbearable in the winter in Montana.”
For three years Bondurant has helped organize donation boxes and drop off locations to be a part of TOEvember in Montana. She shared “There are plenty of people in need, and we see it. That's why we do it. And I love my friend dearly. He's a very good man.”
When Hammerstrom reflects back on the origins of how TOEvember came about he laughed.
“I've been asked that a few times and it kind of stumps me, oddly," Hammerstrom said. "I always thought Socktober was a pretty cool idea. Seemed like a pretty decent way to give something back. Every year October would come and go and inevitably at some point I would find myself thinking dang, Socktober.”
So, six years ago on Halloween Hammerstrom remembered, “I was up at about three in the morning, scrolling through whatever had everybody yelling at each other on social media at the time, and saw someone's total for their Socktober drive.”
Hammerstrom was inspired to help out but he was unsure how, he had a foot in both camps, so to speak. But then that evening he said, “My feet were getting chilly and I grabbed a nice toasty pair out of the dryer. Really kicked it home how much wet cold feet with no options would suck and how I've got it pretty good. Just seemed like someplace I could help out. Definitely surprised a few people including myself.”
He added, “I came up with the goofy name, not original at all it turns out, and announced it on Facebook to completely paint myself into a corner. No backing out that way.”
Since then it’s been off to the races. Hammerstrom mentioned, “So many people have helped out, it's been amazing. Running total for here in Washington hopped over 100,000 pairs. Had about 1,500 the first year, around 30,000 pairs the last few years.”
What started out as an effort to help the homeless in his home state of Washington, with the help of social media Hammerstrom has spurred action in several parts of the country. Friends like Bondurant who spearheaded collection efforts in Western Montana, but there are others in Oregon, Illinois, and all the way down in Florida. Someone even recently began collecting in Alberta, Canada.
Donations here in Mineral County topped 300 pairs of new socks last year and Bondurant hopes to exceed that number this November. With COVID-19 they’ve had fewer collection sites, but those looking to donate pairs of new socks can drop off at Darlow’s Quality Foods in Superior or at the Talking Bird Saloon in St. Regis.
Bondurant noted, “The socks go to food banks in Mineral County, and the Poverello Center in Missoula. It has always been a very nice turn out. With only word of mouth, and local Facebook we got pretty excited when we counted them last year.”
Why socks you might ask? Bondurant stated, “Well, it's just something that is so. Matt did his research, and turns out that is the number one request. Having wet cold socks is super lame right? Now you have wet cold socks, and its winter in Montana, and your homeless. Dry feet are essential when you are on the streets.”
For those planning to contribute Bondurant has one appeal. “Only new socks. I have had folks put used socks in our boxes, and I donate them as well, but separately. The homeless aren't asking for new socks, I am. We are,” she expressed.
She added, “They do not have to be in packaging, they just need to be new. All sizes. Also, folks have tossed in new underwear before, a few toiletries, and I donate it all. No problem. We're just asking for new socks, so when folks give me other new items, that's fine and good!”
Bondurant encouraged folks to check the Mineral County page on Facebook for TOEvember announcements, and to leave a comment if you would like a collection box.
New socks will be accepted through the end of November, and be sure to look for donation boxes next year as well. Hammerstrom hoped, “I would really love to see more people pick this thing up.”