No mean feat: Machinists collecting socks for charity

SEATTLE — Machinists Union members are collecting socks to complement the work of  Redeeming Soles, a Seattle non-profit that provides shoes for homeless people.

Shoes1Union stewards and members are being encouraged to bring new and unused men’s and women’s socks to their local lodge meetings in February and March. Donations also can be brought to Machinists Union District Lodge 751’s Seattle Union Hall at 9125 15th Place S.

Redeeming Soles is the brainchild of Scott Sowle, who is known in Seattle’s charitable community as “the shoe guy.”

District 751 volunteers first encountered Sowle at King County United Way‘s community resource exchange event in October, when they helped him distribute more than 1,000 pairs of shoes to Seattle-area homeless people.

“We met Scott and were really impressed with the work he does, so when he asked if we could help him collect socks, we said ‘Yes’ right away,” said Robley Evans, the chairman of the Machinists Volunteer Program. “Every pair of socks we collect over the next two months will make a real difference in somebody’s life.”

Sowle spent 13 years living as a homeless man — much of the time living under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge — and says he constantly struggled with pain in his feet from the hard and cold concrete.

One day, he decided to do something about it. He set up with a sign, a box and some fliers to ask people for their used shoes. The idea took off: Sowle got dozens of shoes, which he cleaned and disinfected and gave to homeless people.

Today, Redeeming Soles distributes donated shoes at homeless shelters, food banks and rescue missions across Seattle. It also provides medical treatment for homeless people with foot pain.

“I took for so many years when I was on the street,” Sowle said. “Today, I can give back. And that’s huge for me.”

The little things can mean a lot, Evans said. “As Machinists, many of us spend a lot of time on our feet. We know the difference that simple things like comfortable footwear and dry socks can mean.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents nearly 34,000 working men and women at 48 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. Over the past four years, union volunteers have raised more than $1 million for Guide Dogs of America, including a record $299,000 collected in 2012.

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