The deadline for shipping to Socks for Japan was Monday, May 16, as announced on April 29 and displayed at the top of our main page in this image:
Passing the deadline has created consternation across the globe! We’ve received — and continue receiving every day — notes from people who haven’t finished their sock gathering and preparation efforts. For them and others curious about the state of affairs at Socks for Japan, I’ve prepared the following FAQ.
MAY I STILL SEND SOCKS AND LETTERS?
We’ll accept socks and letters gathered prior to our deadline or as part of an effort that began prior to our deadline. If you have socks and letters, please prepare them per our guidelines and ship them to us asap!
What you should not do is begin a new sock-gathering effort now. That’s especially true if you’re thinking of a school sock drive, a church donation program, or other plan that packs multi-thousand-pair potential. Please respect our knowledge of the disaster zone and our inventory management.
WHY ARE YOU CLOSING SO SOON?
We’ve been at this full-time since March 13, so it’s not soon, and we’re not closed yet, we’re just turning off our donation spigot. The reason we stopped accepting donations before demand disappeared is that we don’t want to waste socks, and we knew from studying other relief efforts that new donations would continue arriving long past our announced shut-down date.
ARE SURVIVORS DOING WELL?
They have food, drink, and shelter, but they’re a long way from normal life. On May 25, we visited Onagawa to distribute socks and letters to people still living like this:
You can see us setting up our distribution table on the left side of the survivor tent camp. In places like that, where socks get dirty quickly, we hand out more pairs per person than usual.
Lucky survivors who won a lottery are just now beginning to move from shelters to temporary housing, which is rent-free for two years. Tenants must pay utilities, however. Japan used the same type of housing and same two-year plan after the Kobe earthquake in 1995, but some of those survivors lived in the “temporary” housing for seven years. It looks like this:
Even after they move into temporary housing, many survivors will still need support because they’re without jobs and assets.
DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH SOCKS TO KEEP SUPPORTING THEM?
Yes. The population of needy survivors dropped by half over the past 10 weeks. Some have moved in with relatives, others have tapped personal resources to rent apartments, some have moved to different parts of Japan to start life over again.
We plotted anticipated demand against our rate of donations, then worked backward to arrive at our deadline to keep inventory at an appropriate level throughout the declining-demand phase. We acquired enough inventory to last us to the end of the demand. Here’s our processing center on May 24:
The top photo shows our processing-center manager Rumiko working with Shufang, in Sano for one week from Singapore. The bottom photo shows Shufang processing socks with Joe, in Sano for two weeks from Kansas City. Both Shufang and Joe are wonderful people — and excellent volunteers. Joe’s dad checked in with a comment.
With such generous support from overseas, ramping down as demand tapers off was necessary to avoid wasting people’s time and money. This was our intention from the beginning. We are not shocked or unduly swamped by socks, as some people have thought when seeing pictures like those above. The amount on hand is supposed to be big now so it lasts us to the end of the demand without needing to request more donations.
WILL SOCKS I SENT BE THROWN AWAY?
No. We’ll distribute every single sock and letter we receive.
HOW ARE YOU FINDING PEOPLE TO RECEIVE SOCKS AND LETTERS?
Through an extraordinary grassroots research team. Our contact list is better than any other on the NGO scene, including the biggest and most famous. Those types work with government and other official offices to pack warehouses with supplies until they look like this one we found in Minami Sanriku:
That would be fine except that, frequently, officials neglect to assign anybody the task of traveling among the crushed survivor neighborhoods to find the people who actually need the goods. As with much of life, the last mile is the hardest. Every organization wants to announce that it moved 500,000 bags of rice to the disaster zone. What they don’t want to announce is that the bags are serving as still-life exhibits in warehouses while people who need them struggle within a ten-minute drive of the warehouse. We’ve seen that situation and heard about it dozens of times.
Socks for Japan keeps contacts on the ground in the disaster zone who are in touch with us via cell phone and email with up-to-the-minute information. On distributions, we take a day-plan with a map to each stop with full situation details and a contact number to call before arriving to find out if anything has changed while we were traveling. We also update our information at each stop to see if anybody knows anything we need to know as well. Here’s one of our day-trip managers, Naoko, and me conferring with an Onagawa area leader named Sato-san last Wednesday:
By the way, Sato-san lives in a shelter. Here he is showing us where he sleeps every night with his family:
One time, a neighborhood leader named Nakazawa-san in Ishinomaki told us the government food distribution was a zoo and that we should cancel our plan to join it with socks. Instead, he suggested we set up at a nearby neighborhood spot we all know. He and his group — who live among the destroyed homes in the neighborhood — promised to pass the word among the survivor community. We showed up at an empty street, then watched in awe as wave after wave of people followed the small group of local leaders from dusty back alleys to join the line at our van for three pairs of socks each.
You’ll notice a new volunteer handing out socks in the photo above. That’s Professor Jose Holguin-Veras from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who is an expert in disaster relief. He joined us for the day to help and study the effectiveness of our operation. Later, we’ll work with him to prepare a comprehensive report on Socks for Japan and see what lessons it offers future direct-aid operations for disaster survivors. Here’s Jose with Nakazawa-san, the neighborhood leader who quickly pulled together the street distribution, and Nakazawa-san’s cousin in the background through the open van:
We’ve become very good at taking our socks and letters to the people who need them, and making their day with our arrival. We’ll continue improving our techniques and expanding our network and reputation so that all the socks and letters we receive find the feet and spirits that need them. When a group needs socks just about anywhere in the disaster zone, somebody will say, “Call Socks for Japan.” With our fliers and cards in the hands of key people, reaching us is easy — and popular.
I JUST FOUND YOU AND REALLY WANT TO HELP SOMEHOW.
WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST?
You can help us directly by staying in Sano to process socks and join us on distributions. Please see our volunteer info page for more on that.
You can also send items of encouragement for schools, such as banners, origami cranes, and other large-area displays. When we have room atop our socks on a day trip, we take items like that to give to the school or shelter after we’ve finished distributing. Ask us about the item you’re considering sending before sending it, just to be sure it’s appropriate. For help translating messages into Japanese, use our care letter creation page.
IS THERE A CHANCE YOU’LL START ACCEPTING SOCKS AGAIN?
A small one. To receive a note if and when that happens, please join our list.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO IF I ALREADY DONATED?
Yes. You can share correspondence from a survivor who received your socks and letters. Please do so on our letters from survivors page. Everybody involved in this effort would love to see them.
Thank you for helping us help survivors!
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I’m in the same boat as the teachers who commented above – I bought socks a while back, in April I think, but life got away from me and I still have them, so I came here to see if you are still accepting them. I hope a few more pairs won’t be too much trouble if I send them this weekend! So sorry I missed the cut-off date.
I am a teacher in a Year 4 (8 year olds) class in London and we started collecting our socks in April. We have finally finished bagging them and writing out letters and i was checking your website for the address when I saw that you had stopped collecting. It has taken us a fair time to get this done, but the children have been involved throughout and will be very disappointed to find that the socks are no longer needed.
Is there any call for 40 more pairs? Or an alternative charity drive that you know of?
Thanks to you, Thea, and all the children who helped prepare socks. Don’t worry, we can still use them. We’re about to pause for the hot summer months but will most likely resume distributing again when northern Japan cools down in September. We’re still working on details.
Please send your socks per the guidelines to the address shown. We’ll receive and process them, and make sure they find their way to the feet that need them!
That’s great news!
Jason, What do yu need for the fall?
I still have some socks we prepared before you stopped.
Do you need reading glasses? I know it’s going to start getting cold…
Let me know, with much care and concern, NANCI
Thank you for checking in, Nanci. We need adult socks only. We have plenty of children’s socks from Phase I, but not so many adult socks.
Thank you in advance!
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