To be homeless in New York is to be in want of innumerable things that we take for granted.
Cat Fernando, a rising sophomore at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, is on a mission to make sure warm, dry feet are not one of them.
Fernando, a native of Old Bridge, New Jersey, has been giving away socks to the homeless since last September, as part of an effort she’s dubbed Socks in the City.
Thanks to recent efforts of the Fordham community, she won’t run out of supplies any time soon. At an end of year reception held May 11 at the Rose Hill campus by the Fordham University Association, nearly 600 pairs were donated to Socks in the City, along with $93 for additional purchases. More socks collected by the Office of Mission Integration and Planning put the number at nearly 800.
Fernando, who aspires to become a social worker, has been helping the homeless since she was 11. She started out by giving sandwiches, but after talking to the people she encountered, she learned that what they needed most were socks, as well as toiletries.
“When there are clothing drives, people always think of coats and shirts and pants, which are very important. But socks are something that people take for granted,” she said.
Up until May, Socks in the City existed as a single donation bin in Fernando’s residence hall. Fernando herself keeps an assortment of 20 pairs on her at all times in case she encounters a homeless person during her daily routine, and also gives them to residents of the Ned Coughlin, S.J., Men’s Shelter in the West Village, where she volunteers twice a week.
The donation bin eventually led her to the Fordham University Association, which promotes engagement between faculty and staff. One of Fernando’s floor mates attended a résumé-building workshop run by Alby Tello, director of career development at the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS). When the subject of including volunteer work on a résumé came up, Tello said he told her about Fernando’s Socks in the City project.
“I’m always hosting events at GSS and with the Fordham University Association (FUA), and we’ve been trying to get more involved with the community. I don’t really believe in coincidences; I think this was totally meant to be,” Tello said. “It was like love at first sight. [Fernando] is so endearing, and so sweet and so smart, so we started working together.”
Tello said she was particularly impressed that Fernando took the time to learn what the homeless actually need.
“In social work, we call that a needs assessment,” she said. “We have our own ideas as professionals, but talking to community, she found out that they really need socks,” she said.
For Fernando, the FUA’s “Soul to Sole,” reception held on May 11, was a roaring success. Her first fundraiser, a student viewing of the movie Sex in the City, had netted just 60 pairs of socks; the FUA gathering netted 584 pairs of socks.
The socks are in boxes in Old Bridge, but Fernando plans to give them out when she visits New York City in the summer, and on regular basis when classes resume in the fall. She also makes a point to introduce herself when she offers socks, and asks the recipients if they’d be willing to share a fun fact. A journal she keeps currently holds 200 answers, culled from the 600 or so people she’s met.
“I’m giving people what they need but I’m also aiming to re-humanize people who’ve been ignored a lot of the time. Remembering people when I see them again is very important, and having a fact to associate with them helps me remember them better,” she said.
“I once met a man in the park named Charles Jackson, who was about to get housing. He was telling me how he works so hard all the time, and he’s learned so much through experiencing hardship. He said the real learning happens after graduation, because the whole universe is your university.”