For the past nine years, Leslie Cassidy-Amadio has been leading a small army of volunteers in her mission to help the most vulnerable in the community — one pair of socks at at time.
Each year, Cassidy-Amadio’s charity, JOY-Full Socks, collects and receives thousands of donations of socks and grooming products; which she then packages and hand-delivers to organizations across Sault Ste. Marie.
It was an idea that hit her like a lightning bolt back in 2011 after she attended a presentation from the Soup Kitchen Community Centre.
“[The presenter] told us some horrific stories of people right here in the city, and how they were living. It really just spoke to my heart. So I went up to her after and I said, 'What can I do to help?'" She replied that they ran a dinner every year and gave out socks and grooming products; the two most needed items (which are donated least). “I thought; well that's simple I can easily go buy that!”
While she drove home afterward Cassidy-Amadio wondered — what if she got a whole bunch of others to do it, too?
“I sent out an email and called it “JOY-Full Socks” and said; why don't we see how many we can we can do? And so from then to now it has become an annual thing.”
JOY-Full Socks has snowballed; that first year they filled 420 socks; last year, they did more than 3,000 pairs.
“I find that people want to do something, they want to help — they just don't know what to do,” she says. “So when you give them an idea, they jump all over it. This one is is so easy [to do].”
JOY-Full Socks has spread throughout Ontario; people hear about it and replicate it in their own communities; it has even made it to a couple of cities in the States and out to St. John’s Newfoundland.
She aims to have the socks collected by the first week of December, in order to organize and send to the Soup Kitchen in time for their annual dinner. But it’s not limited to the Soup Kitchen; last year she distributed to 18 different locations, including Pauline’s Place, Ken Brown Recovery, St. Vincent Place, The Algoma District School Board and Huron-Superior Catholic Disitrict School Board adult learning centres, Children's Aid Society and more.
“Since we’ve started donating to St. Vincent place, the men have not had to purchase grooming products, so they can use their allowance for other things. For the Soup Kitchen, we walk through the door on donation day and they’re like ‘yay! The sock lady is here!” They get all excited, and it usually tides them over well into Easter. The day after donation day at Holy Angels Learning Centre, a girl came up and lifted her pant leg and said; 'look at my socks! Aren’t they beautiful? These are the best socks I’ve ever owned!' We get some tearful moments when we do the deliveries, it’s very heartwarming for sure.”
Cassidy-Amadio has long been serving others in the community.
A stay-at-home mom of six, she went on to volunteer in school as part of the BABES program. She’s been a volunteer firefighter in Prince Township for thirty years, and also serves on the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board board as a trustee.
“My mom and dad always taught us to care for others, and to put them first,” she remembers. “That was our number one rule. She gave us a very strong faith, and from that model — you know, they say God sends you signs. With me, I need a 2x4 to the back of the head to wake me up sometimes,” she laughs. “That’s what I feel like happened [with JOY-Full Socks]. When that woman was vividly explaining the way of life of some in our community; it was just a wake-up call. You know, you get walking around in your own life, kind of in a fog. And then when someone says hey, take notice . . . your eyes open wide.”
“It's overwhelming, because you see these people that need need help; and when you do this simple, little thing — the joy that they exude from you thinking about them — it just makes us feel so good. JOY-Full Socks is about the family and friends that help me without hesitation and the very kind and generous people who give donations. Without all of them JOY-Full Socks would not be what it is today. For all of them I am grateful. I am just a conduit for sharing their love and kindness, which is a gift to me.”
Cassidy-Amadio has already started amassing the goods for this year’s drive.
“It takes over; boxes wall-to-wall, you start to smell the perfume of the soaps. I have a group of friends that come over and we just fill socks, fill boxes. On delivery day, we do a little caravan into town and drop off all the donations. Then we go for lunch and say; phew! We did another year. It’s a lot of work, but it’s great fun.”
“I just love it when people want to help, and want to be involved. The goodness and how many people, the generosity and kindness. Wow. That just makes me feel good. This world is really not such a bad place; there’s so much good up there. That's the greatest thing that I've gotten out of this is; to see that there is goodness out there. And we need to focus on that more than the bad that's going on in the world.”