If homeless clients of the Old Brewery Mission have warmer, dryer and healthier feet this winter, it will be at least in part due to the initiative of Montreal restaurateur David Ferguson, one of his suppliers, a friend of that supplier, and a friend of that friend who happens to be the CEO Montreal-based Gildan Activewear.
Because of them, the shelter has 13,500 more pairs of socks available for those who need them.
Ferguson, chef-owner of Restaurant Gus in Petite-Patrie, learned from a radio documentary that homeless people, who are constantly on their feet, don’t get to change socks often and that their feet are often wet. From the Socks for the Homeless doc, which aired on CBC Radio One’s The Sunday Edition in 2013, he learned that this makes them vulnerable to fungal infections and ulcers and that these conditions can lead to nerve damage and other permanent problems.
He learned also that socks are among the items most frequently requested by people who are homeless – but that they are rarely donated.
He decided to help.
The following year Ferguson organized a sock drive for the homeless and called it Bas pour Bulles, or Socks for Bubbly: For a week in November, whoever brought in a new pair of socks to Gus or any of several establishments to which he’d reached out got a free glass of bubbly. He also organized a fundraising dinner at Gus, with every penny raised going toward the purchase of socks.
Through that first drive, more than 5,000 pairs of socks were collected or purchased with money raised at the dinner. The 2015 and 2016 drives were even more successful.
This year Ferguson expanded the drive to Toronto, where he recruited five establishments. Following the November drive, he travelled to Toronto to collect the 1,000 pairs of socks donated and delivered them to that city’s Scott Mission.
In Montreal there were 10 participating restaurants this year: Gus, Joe Beef, Lili.Co, Luciano Trattoria, Nora Gray, Pastaga, Pizzeria Gema, Santa Barbara, Restaurant Su and Tuck Shop. Between what was donated and purchased with funds raised at the Gus dinner, Ferguson delivered about 6,000 pairs of socks to the Old Brewery Mission. Still, he knew that more socks were needed.
Leo Rabinovitch, a wine importer and supplier to Gus, told his friend Mitch Kendall about Ferguson’s Socks for Bubbly initiative. Kendall was unable to attend the fundraising dinner but told Rabinovitch, “Let me make a couple of calls.”
Kendall contacted Glenn Chamandy, CEO of Montreal-based clothing manufacturer Gildan and, it happened, a lifelong friend. “And Glenn, being the incredibly generous person he is,” agreed to help.
Kendall knew from Ferguson that 7,500 pairs of socks were needed. The socks were in Charleston, S.C., where Gildan has a distribution centre.
(An interesting twist: In 2015, Peds Legwear, a company founded in Sorel in 1934, donated 11,200 pairs of socks to Ferguson’s Socks for Bubbly campaign. In 2016, Peds was purchased by Gildan, which has acquired several sock manufacturing companies.)
The Gildan team was “incredible,” Kendall said, singling out two employees who “made this happen:” Stefanie Lemme in Montreal, Chamandy’s administrative assistant, and Tamarae Tabaka in Charleston, who arranged for the socks to be shipped via Federal Express so that they would get to Montreal as quickly as possible. Both “made a situation that involved cross-border couriers, customs, logistics, etc., seem easy and were so kind and generous with their time and efforts that I just needed to mention that.”
It was hoped that the socks would be in Montreal by Christmas but it took a bit longer. By Boxing Day they were in Mirabel, Kendall said, and due to be delivered to the Old Brewery Mission on Wednesday.
AT A GLANCE
The Old Brewery Mission welcomes donations of clean, warm clothes in good condition, non-perishable food and unopened toiletries. And, of course, unworn socks. The Mission offers emergency food and shelter, but its goal is to end chronic homelessness. Learn more at oldbrewerymission.ca.