By Kristy Martin Photos: Jarryd Bravo
A local boy is single-handedly keeping homeless people’s feet warm and dry, as Kristy Martin discovers.
Kindness is afoot in the Berry household of Mt Eliza. Ten-year-old Josh Berry is leading the charge, as he aims to collect two pairs of socks for every homeless person in Victoria.
And with 23,000 homeless people in the state, Josh hopes to get his hands on a whopping 50,000 pairs of new socks.
It’s a hugely ambitious project for a 10-year-old, but then Josh is not your average kid.
The home-schooled local lad has a kindness and compassion rarely found in most adults, let alone someone so young.
“Josh has a very compassionate heart,” says his mother, Jane.
“He is kind and he just loves helping people.”
She and her husband Gary are, understandably, incredibly proud of their son.
The 2 Pairs Each Project was launched mid-last year, after Josh was walking through Melbourne’s CBD with his parents and saw a group of homeless people.
The weather was chilly and he couldn’t believe these people would remain out in the cold.
Desperate to help, Josh went home and googled ‘What do homeless people need most?’ and was surprised to find that housing wasn’t among the most sought after items – but warm socks were.
“Homeless people say that one of the things they need most are clean, warm socks,” Josh explains.
“People give blankets and jackets, usually when they no longer fit them or get another jacket, but you never give away your holey socks.”
Clean, well-fitting new socks are an integral part of foot care, agrees Melanie Raymond of Youth Projects, one of the organisations Josh is helping.
“People experiencing homelessness have major health issues with their feet, because it is difficult to care properly for your feet in those circumstances.
“You can’t simply kick off your shoes and relax at the end of the day when you are homeless.
“Being on your feet all the time in the same shoes and socks, exposed to damp, causes infection and puts people at risk of ‘trench foot’.”
Trench foot is a painful medical condition caused by prolonged immersion in cold water or mud, which leads to a blackening of the foot and death of the surface tissue.
“Imagine if you only had one pair of socks,” Josh says.
“What do you do if you want to wash your clothes?
“If you don’t have another pair to put on, then your feet get cold.”
So far, Josh has collected over 10,000 pairs of socks and counting.
He has also been given more than 1451 items of warm clothing and blankets.
He and his family make regular trips to Frankston and Melbourne to distribute the socks and other goods to homeless people they are connected with through RDNS (Royal District Nursing Service), Community Support Frankston, the Salvation Army and Youth Projects.
They are not only delivering warmth and comfort with each pair, but also helping to boost self esteem.
“Feeling clean and refreshed is an important part of maintaining your identity and self esteem in such difficult circumstances,” says Melanie, Youth Projects chair.
“Being able to supply clean socks is a small but valuable benefit for people struggling on the streets, whether in extreme heat or cold.”
Jane Berry says the sock recipients are always incredibly grateful.
“In St Kilda, most people will only take one pair of socks in order to leave the other pair for someone who needs it more.”
The Berry family has learned a wealth of information about homelessness, including that there are three levels – primary: no conventional accommodation or sleeping rough, secondary: sleeping in emergency accommodation or couch surfing and tertiary: lodging in boarding houses or caravan parks.
They have visited the tent community under King Street Bridge, helped serve at food trucks and found that many homeless people won’t sleep at night because they don’t feel safe.
They have talked to a variety of people, including those with mental illnesses, former prisoners, drug addicts (current and reformed) and even a survivor of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge.
“It was important to us to not just give the socks as a token, but to actually stand there and have a conversation with people,” says Jane.
“It has been a real eye opener.”
Most of the homeless people have little in the way of social networks, so they are just grateful to have someone who will listen.
They are always surprised to learn that the help has been instigated by someone as young as Josh.
It is through his 2 Pairs Each website, social media and even just word of mouth that the project has gained support from near and far.
Earlier this year, he received a $1000 grant from a local newspaper, which he used to buy 570 pairs of socks.
Ritchies IGA also threw in support by doing a national promotion (at 63 stores across Victoria, NSW and Queensland) for a month, in which they donated one pair of socks for every three pack of WRK socks they sold.
They then presented 4600 pairs of socks to Josh.
Josh has appeared on Channel 9 News, was featured in the Huffington Post and has received grants from US-based organisations Start a Snowball and The Pollination Project.
He has inspired children he knows in Western Australia to sell mandarins from their backyard tree because they wanted money to help him buy socks.
He’s got an elderly supporter in Warragul who saves money from her pension and donates socks every month.
And he has been continuously supported by countless local residents and businesses.
You might say kindness is contagious.
Melanie says 2 Pairs Each has greatly assisted Youth Projects, which provides frontline support for homeless people, including free health care, counselling, showers, laundry and food, as well as links to training and employment.
“Josh sets a great example for other young people showing that you can make a difference.
“He has taken the time to get to know us and what our needs are and why socks are important, and been someone, despite his age, we can depend on for really strong support.”
Every decision about 2 Pairs Each is Josh’s own and his parents and sister, Sarah, 13, are there to help every step of the way.
He even came up with the ingenious idea of contacting major sports stadiums and ski resorts and asking if they could donate lost property to his cause.
The MCG is now regularly donating jumpers, hoodies and jackets that spectators have left at the grounds.
Jane is continually amazed at her son’s determination and also his patience.
“I wasn’t sure his goal of 50,000 was actually achievable, but now it’s just over one year on and we are already at 10,000 so I’m thinking ‘Wow, this is amazing’.”
Josh hopes he can finish the project within a few years.
“Then I can live a normal life,” he says.
“I think I’ll have two years’ rest and then hopefully do something else.”
We have no doubt Josh will go on to even bigger and better things.
Watch this space.
If you’d like to help Josh, head to 2pairseach.com.au