NEWS

Local nonprofit collects socks and underwear for RI's homeless population

By EMMA BARTLETT
Posted 2/15/22

By EMMA BARTLETT Last spring, Lauren Testoni, 32, and Rebecca Carroll, 27, drove throughout Providence handing out new socks to individuals experiencing homelessness. The two had just wrapped up a loosely structured sock drive that turned out to be a

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NEWS

Local nonprofit collects socks and underwear for RI's homeless population

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Last spring, Lauren Testoni, 32, and Rebecca Carroll, 27, drove throughout Providence handing out new socks to individuals experiencing homelessness. The two had just wrapped up a loosely structured sock drive that turned out to be a great success. This year, Testoni and Carroll crafted a more formal fundraiser called Spare a Pair Sock and Underwear Drive which will run from now until April 1.

Testoni is the co-director of Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange, a twenty-year-old organization that puts on the state’s largest annual coat drive. The organization is an extension of Buy Nothing Day – an international day of protest against consumerism that runs concurrent with Black Friday.

Hailing from East Greenwich, Testoni joined the organization ten years ago when her mother volunteered at the yearly coat exchange event. Five years later, Testoni became the co-director after founder Greg Gerritt retired from the position. During the pandemic, Testoni worked at turning Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange into a 501(c) 3 nonprofit.

Carroll, who is a Cranston resident, is the nonprofit's director of digital outreach. She became a volunteer shortly after Testoni – knitting hats and scarves for the yearly coat day event. Her role increased after seeing the organization upload word documents about their events to their Facebook page. Carroll offered to design a website for the nonprofit which led to her creating branding for the organization and managing press releases to ensure word got out about their program.

The 2020 Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange was canceled due to the pandemic, which led to the decision to hold a sock drive in early 2021. After the items were collected, Carroll and Testoni distributed them to individuals living in shelters or experiencing homelessness. They then asked what other items these individuals needed. The biggest answer: underwear.

“It’s a sense of dignity to have clean underwear that fits you,” said Carroll.

Carroll expressed how some people are left wearing sizes that do not fit them. She said some parents even have to choose between purchasing underwear for their children or putting food on the table. With individuals experiencing homelessness walking around all day, they wear through their socks which is why new pairs will help keep them warm.

“If we can alleviate that stress, then that’s a big win,” Carroll said.

Testoni explained that people tend to collect and donate items around the holidays, but forget there is still a need for items come the spring when the weather is still chilly and damp.

This year’s Spare a Pair Sock and Underwear Drive comes at a time where the pandemic continues to affect homelessness and jobless rates in Rhode Island. According to the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness, the state’s homelessness rate is expected to rise from the more than 1,100 reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2020, the fourth consecutive year in which the rate increased. Likewise, the state’s unemployment rate is 7.9 percent as reported by the Department of Labor and Training in December.

“You need to stay warm,” said Testoni, noting that this is huge for individuals’ health.

Testoni and Carroll have several distribution methods including driving through the state and finding people standing on the intersections.

“It’s a great way to find people who slip through the cracks and who aren't involved with programs through the state,” Testoni said.

Through the coat drive, the two have made connections with community members and groups who are able to reach individuals in need.

Spare a Pair Sock and Underwear Drive has received roughly 20 donations and is looking for brand new, unopened socks and underwear for adults of all sizes and gender. While all donations are appreciated, the nonprofit is seeking thick, tall socks that can withstand the cold weather. For underwear, plus sizes are always welcomed since these items are harder to come by.

Individuals can also host their own collection site. Carroll said all someone needs is a box to store the items in and drop them off to one of the location sites at the end of the drive. The two women said that anyone wanting to host a collection site and would like their contact information listed on the nonprofit’s website can email them at ricoatdrive@gmail.com.

Items can be dropped off or delivered to the following locations and addressed to Buy Nothing Day Coat Exchange: 21 Division St., #2, East Greenwich, RI, 02818 or 86 Longview Drive Cranston, RI, 02920. The following are drop off locations only: Hot Club on 25 Bridge St., Providence; Sin Desserts on 1413 Westminster St., Providence.

Individuals can also contribute to the nonprofit’s GoFundMe fundraiser. When Carroll and Testoni have a final count of all the items, they will use the funds to purchase whichever clothing item they received less of.

Testoni attended George R. Hanaford Elementary School, Archie R. Cole Junior High School, East Greenwich High School and the University of Rhode Island where she received a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies. Testoni now works as an associate manager of strategic events at BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) medical technology company. Carroll attended an assortment of schools including Eden Park Elementary School, Ponaganset High School and the University of Rhode Island where she obtained Bachelor's degrees in Spanish language and literature and French studies. Carroll is currently obtaining her masters in public administration. She works as a manager of strategic marketing and advertising at the Community College of Rhode Island.

To learn more about the nonprofit, please visit ricoatexchange.org.

PILING UP: Testoni and Carroll have collected 20 items in this year’s Spare a Pair Sock and Underwear Drive. People can send them donations of new, unopened packages of underwear and socks.

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