Student non-profit at UNL aids homeless with sock donations

Most college students have a fair amount to worry about: earning good grades, their future prospects and graduating with a staggering debt, the average of which broke a record at $35,000 in 2015. Some students, though, add another worry to that list: homelessness.

The number of homeless youth in Lincoln has gone up in recent years and is on track to be even higher this year, said Bryan Seck, homeless outreach specialist for Lincoln Public Schools, who also noted that the numbers of high school and college students who are homeless are underreported.

Three students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wanted to address the issue of homelessness, so they created a non-profit organization called Put A Sock In It that donates socks to those who need them.

“We started finding out that there was actually a need for socks at homeless shelters,” said Sarah Porath, a sophomore at UNL. “When people donate to homeless shelters, they don’t think about it.”

Put A Sock In It, founded by Josie Jensen and Tayler Sundermann with the help of Porath, aims to fill a need for homeless individuals that many might overlook, but a need that anyone can help meet.

The idea developed in a college dorm room, where Sundermann sat with a large pile of mismatched socks, unsure what to do with the singles.

Then, the idea dawned: “We should give them to somebody,” he said.

Since then, Put A Sock In It has donated more than 2,500 pairs of socks. Donation boxes are housed in UNL residence hall laundry rooms, where students can leave single socks or pairs. The nonprofit also collects socks from businesses that want to donate to Put A Sock In It, Porath said.

“A lot of students live from couch to couch because they have to choose between paying for tuition and paying for a place to live,” Porath said.

According to Seck, LPS had 493 homeless students (K-12) at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. There were 358 homeless students the year before.

But the number of homeless students LPS documents doesn’t always tell the full story.

It becomes much harder to find the unaccompanied homeless high school students (those without guardians) as they age because they don’t reach out to anyone, Seck said.

“The mom of a kindergartener will tell, but the 12th grader won’t,” he said.

Some students are invisible to the system, Seck said.

But for those Seck knows are homeless, LPS provides resources to help. Lincoln graduates a high population of homeless students, some of who go on to higher education, he said.

In order to receive federal grants from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, unaccompanied homeless youth have to obtain verification letters from a school district homeless liaison, like Seck.

Seck said he wouldn’t be doing his job correctly if none of the homeless youth he worked with went on to college.

Last year, 56,000 college students nationwide identified as homeless on the FAFSA.

Porath is aware that providing socks for a homeless person doesn’t relieve them of a huge burden or cure anything.

“It’s just a small relief that they don’t have to worry about anymore,” she said.

In Seck’s experience, people simply need help getting back on their feet. He said he remembers a student who graduated from LPS two years ago and went on to UNL and now is experiencing success.

But Put A Sock In It provides an opportunity for anyone to aid the homeless, even students who would otherwise struggle to contribute, Porath said.

“We could be sitting beside somebody in class,” Porath said. “This is our one small way to give back.”


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