Ruth Milligan and her daughter Maggie fold socks for Maggie's Matches, which donates hundreds of socks to the homeless every year.

Little Big Projects

While children her age might have visions of sugar plums and PS4s dancing in their heads, this Christmas, Maggie Daiber will be occupied with thoughts of something entirely different:

Socks.

It started with a simple question from Maggie’s mother, Ruth Milligan, back in 2011.

“I was like, ‘Maggie, where do these socks go?’” she said. “Wouldn’t it be funny if my white sock matches your friends mom’s sock?’”

Turns out there were many more matches than just some friends and moms around the block. Taking collections at her kindergarten and her brother’s pre-school, Maggie’s Matches as it became known, ended up with 300 pairs in their first year—all of which were donated to local homeless shelters around Columbus.

It may have fittingly started with a conversation for Ruth (who runs TedXColumbus), but the project was mainly catalyzed by a desire for her children to directly volunteer and participate in a service project around the holidays—an opportunity that isn’t as available for small children.

“I thought about what I could do with them beyond gifts,” Ruth said. “For a four- and a six-year-old, a lot of people just don’t want them volunteering. Plus, it’s tactile visual fun. You can stack them, organize them, play basketball with them…it’s a whole lot of fun while you’re matching them.”

Well, it’s a good thing it’s fun because after nearly doubling their output in year two, Maggie’s Matches (which now has an official partnership with the Clintonville Resource Center) ended last year’s run with 4,000 pairs—enough to also offer socks to Red Cross first responders and to the Maryhaven Clinic.

People have also donated already matched socks, and in some cases, purchased socks—but they try discourage that, since matching up existing orphans is also helping to keep clothing out of the trash.

While the initial goal was to solve an existing problem while participating in community service, Ruth says there have been so many collateral benefits for her young daughter.

“The amount of different conversation opportunities that have evolved as she’s grown—how to build a website, speaking to her 400 classmates, or being interviewed for the news…who knew? All we wanted to do was collect socks and not let them be part of the waste stream.”

And Maggie’s Matches has a new goal for 2016: to find more matchers. A specifically local project, both Ruth and Maggie have built a simple kit to guide those interested in helping into creating their own drives and collection systems.

“Now, it’s about inspiring others,” Ruth said. “Everyone has single socks, and no one knows what to do with [them]. Everyone can connect with the story.”

For more, visit maggiesmatches.com.

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