Socks for Change takes big step towards helping Niagara’s poverty-stricken

After hearing how poverty-stricken people wearing wet cotton socks contracted illnesses through their feet, “That just haunted me,” Sam Baio told the ThoroldNews.

When the philanthropist and founder/CEO of West49 and the Boathouse sold his clothing stores, he kick-started the Socks for Change program.

“I found my purpose.”

Financing the volunteer-run project entirely from his own pocket for the first two years; he later began seeking partners to help with the sheer logistics of its operation.

Baio teamed up with PenFinancial, who became the title sponsor when then director of brand development Jody Vizza, “instantly fell in love with it.”

Now retired from PenFinancial, Vizza is still an active volunteer and board member at Socks for Change.

Typically, she noted, funds are raised by having coin boxes in retail locations, as well as through monetary sponsors, while the charity relies on the generosity of larger monetary donations from the public.

“Every single penny of this fundraising goes to Niagara schools and shelters,” said Baio. “This isn’t a Christmas charity; it’s a winter charity, and it’s a long season.”

The socks come pre-washed so they won’t shrink in the dryer, and have “a bit of acrylic to strengthen the fabric; and it still has warmth when it’s wet.”

Socks for Change is now a registered charity, and in three short years, Baio and his team of volunteers have distributed more than 65,000 pairs of new wool socks and 100,000 new winter scarves, hats and gloves to over 60 shelters and charitable organizations; more than 150 schools; Niagara Regional Police and EMS services and anywhere else the organization finds a person who needs a warm pair of socks.

In the fall of 2020, realizing that they had to change their model to ensure sustainability through the Coronavirus pandemic and beyond, volunteers initiated two new programs: “Buy 1/Donate 2,” and “Sponsor a School.”

“We launched our ‘Buy 1 pair/Donate 2’ sock sale in November,” said Vizza.

“People get a great pair of wool socks and we get to donate two more pairs to people in need. For every $8 pair of wool socks that someone purchases, we will donate two pairs of wool socks to people in need in Niagara. Many Niagara businesses have been purchasing socks to give to their employees and clients for Christmas, which is a wonderful way to give, and give back to Niagara.”

These funds help to purchase socks to distribute to more than 60 not for profit organizations in Niagara, like the YWCA, Community Care, Port Cares, Hope Centre, and others, as well as all EMS, and stocks ambulances and Niagara Regional Police vehicles. They will continue selling socks throughout the winter months.

Many local youth are lacking warmth, said Vizza, and currently, Socks for Change volunteers are looking for Niagara area businesses and service clubs “To support our cause by sponsoring a school who has applied to us to receive wool socks this winter. A donation of $500 will provide a high school with 100 pairs of new wool socks, 100 new fleece hats and 100 new fleece gloves for its students. A donation of $250 will provide an elementary school with 50 pairs of new wool socks, 50 new fleece hats and 50 new fleece gloves.”

The website, lists the schools from across all three Niagara boards that have applied to the program and are in need of socks, hats and gloves for their less fortunate students.

Click on the “Sponsor a School” page at: to see the list of schools available for sponsorship.

According to Vizza, “Every school sponsor will be recognized for their donation with social media mentions, their logo on the Supporter section of the website, a certificate of merit, their company or service club listed in the drop down list menu on our ‘Sponsor a School’ page, and a tax receipt.”

If interested in sponsoring a school, contact Jody Vizza at [email protected] or 905-401-6509.

Thorold News  By: Cathy Pelletier