Angels of the Earth

Most of my reports have focused on Socks for Japan’s distribution of socks and letters to survivors in the disaster zone. Not one trip would be possible without the dedication of our Sano-based volunteer staff, however. They’re the ones who tirelessly receive packages from overseas, open them, count and sort pairs of socks, check letters, and repackage everything by category in clear bags for distribution.

Our processing center was a quiet, vacant accounting office before we moved in:


We began with few systems in place because the initial pace of arrival was modest, a trickle compared to the thousands of pairs per day we handle now. Look at the empty floor space all the way to our entrance in the first week of processing:

It soon became this:

then this:

then this:

then this:

then this:

We started out as a small group figuring it out as we went:

As the volume ramped up, however, we grew our numbers to match the workload and developed helpful standard practices. We learned:

  • Clear bags are better than boxes for transporting lots of socks, because bags and socks compress.
  • Bags should not be tied tightly with rubber bands because it takes too long to open them while an eager line of survivors awaits. Far better is a tie with a quick-release tab marked by tape. One pull and — ta-da! — the bag opens to outstretched hands.
  • Standardizing our count to 100 pairs of socks per bag, no exceptions, makes inventory tracking a snap.
  • A large group of people is slower than a focused team of pros. A few smart, efficient, energetic volunteers are much better than a confused crowd. It’s imperative to know who’s good at what, and match them with complementary types in the right numbers. A roster of additional people is handy, but must be managed wisely.
  • The best way to handle somebody who knows what they’re doing and never misses a deadline is to leave them alone. I love these kind of people and am making it my mission to surround myself with them!
  • Teaching donors how to properly prepare packages is equivalent to speeding up our processing team by a factor of three. In other words, properly prepared socks triple our productivity.
  • Some people will never follow directions, so a certain percentage of socks arrive improperly prepared. The most efficient way to handle them — absent an emergency need — is to set them aside and tackle them all at once. Trying to process properly prepared socks alongside improperly prepared is the slowest approach of all.
  • Finding the right people is the most important part of succeeding. Our greatest number of high-quality, perfectly prepared socks have come from the same dozen or so groups of people around the world. Our best processing results have come from the same dozen or so volunteers who show up rain or shine, shaking earth or still, radiation explosions or none, and get it done.
  • A set schedule focuses people. Because most of our volunteers work traditional jobs, we process every weeknight from 5:30 pm and every Saturday and Sunday from 9 am. We distribute on Wednesdays and Sundays. Everybody knowing that means everybody is aware of what has to happen now.

Once those lessons took root and our varsity team emerged, we hit a stride that can keep pace with any volume of donations. Our biggest single day so far was 6,100 pairs, but I’m confident we could manage 10,000 in one day. Look at this team go!

Thanks to generous donors, our volunteers receive high-quality ingredients for making sensational care packages, the kind that light up eyes wherever we go. Look what the good people of this planet have sent our way:

By combining big-hearted supporters around the world with unflagging volunteers in Sano, Socks for Japan has processed 56,694 pairs of socks and distributed 40,794 pairs to survivors in the disaster zone. We’re still at it every day, so those numbers won’t last long. They’re growing as you read this.

Angels of the Earth, I thank you.

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24 Comments

  1. Posted November 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Great volunteer management tips. Thank you. And, apologies for the folks who doesn’t do instructions well – I am quite sure many came from my network! Oops. All the Helping Angels members from around the world who participated with your initiative were greatly inspired and even when I tell the story with a few visuals of this project, the audience eyes would light up. I often talk about Socks For Japan with pride during my motivational speeches to corporate leaders. Wish to make a greater difference!
    You are very blessed to be surrounded by the efficient and autonomous workers, and your aspiration to make the project happen attracted them to you.

    • Posted November 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      I was, indeed, blessed with a superb team of people who demonstrated the art of selfless care for others. Seeing them rise up from the anonymity of Sano’s population was moving. Let me know if you’d like me to join your schedule of talks to corporate leaders, or if you need any materials.

      • Posted November 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        Hey I would love to find opportunities to share a speaking platform with you. That means, I need to make my way to meet you in person so we could brainstorm this further. (Honestly don’t see you traveling to away from SFJ anytime immediate.)

        We definitely have shared purpose and values, and all we need is to find the right angle to present it to the corporates and make it relevant to their training in ‘leadership’ or motivational objectives. Your profile as an author of books about the money-world definitely puts you within context to the target audience.

        Today I just gave a presentation to Bank Negara (central bank of Malaysia) and I had SFJ in one of my many slides. I spent some minutes explaining how, why, what, when about your brilliant project that resonated with Helping Angels simple objectives in random acts of kindness and the movement of compassion. We need more people to mobilise their brains and resources to make a difference in humanity – I am glad to be presenting it to leaders who has the power to get it rolling.

        So much of what we learn in business school can be put to great and energy efficient use.

  2. Posted May 4, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    A friend has sent me many of your emails and your website. I am moved to tears to read about the amazing people of Japan and what they are patiently enduring. Thanks SO much for all the work you and your volunteers are doing. I sent the story about the HiAce Toyota van (10,000 pair capacity) to the advertising agency of a Boulder Toyota dealer, in hopes they would run an ad extoling the virtues of the van, and the value of Socks for Japan! I’ve also passed on your stories and website to my networking group and many friends. My heart and prayers are with you and the Japanese people. Love, Beth Kuper

  3. Posted May 2, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you from the dancers of Northern Lights Dance in MAINE 🙂
    from our dancing hearts to your dancing feet 🙂

  4. Wakako Wheelock
    Posted April 30, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Hi, I just shipped a box of a little over 100 pairs of socks from Colorado, USA. I think I did everything I could to make things easier for you guys. I’m sorry it took me a while to organize Socks for Japan and get the socks ready. Now that I’ve done it, I can imagine how much work it is for you guys to prepare them right. LOTS OF WORK!!!! There were quite a few socks for kids in there. I hope you can find good homes for them. I plan to ship probably 3 more boxes like that very soon. Thanks for the weblog updates, and all the work you guys have been doing!!

  5. TimHand
    Posted April 30, 2011 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Wow! Ur doing a Super Job.Thanks so much for all the things ur doing there an to each and everyone involved.What a blessing.I love the pictures and stories it makes me feel good to know Japan will get back to where they were.I pray for ur safety and a speedy recovery,amen.

    Thanks so much,
    Tim

  6. Mark Grzywa
    Posted April 29, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Great pics and heartwarming stories! My son’s school is collecting shoes for Japan!

  7. Andrea
    Posted April 29, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    Wow, look at what you have achieved! I am amazed at how much you have changed the lives of so many people, both the donors and recipients by creating such an elegant solution to an overwhelming problem. Congratulations! I am inspired by your dedication.

  8. Mat G
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant work Jason. Your heart certainly is in the right place. As a naturally reflective person and one who strives for continuous improvement, I liked your list of lessons learned, especially this one:

    The best way to handle somebody who knows what they’re doing and never misses a deadline is to leave them alone. I love these kind of people and am making it my mission to surround myself with them!

  9. Steve Eikos
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jason,

    I have been following your work on getting Socks to the devastated areas.
    My question is. What is the state of the Postal Service in these areas?
    Can they receive mail or is this still one of your groups efforts to get mail and letters
    to the strickened areas?

    Thanks, Steve

  10. Kareti
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    I read your book and was impressed with your simple but effective way of investing.
    now with the e-mails I have been getting on Japan Earth Quake, I am much more than impressed with your purposeful life.
    The standard practices you developed is some thing I will show to my co-workers in trying to impress upon them to have standards even in Offices as a way of Continuous Improvement Process mentality ( Kaizen).
    keep the e-mails coming, good luck!!

  11. James
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Awesome. Inspiring.

  12. Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Just incredible seeing the efforts you are putting in. The results seem fantastic. I never can see much on the news about Japan.The earthquake seems a while ago. In New Zealand, in Christchurch, where many Japanese disaster helpers came over, it was hard to believe that it also was only eight weeks ago. This earthquake and tsunami came just as many of those had just returned to Japan.

  13. KH
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant effort! Incredible to see how many people around the world are contributing socks. What a fabulous team you’ve got sorting it all out and distributing. What I’d like to know is if there is a way I can contribute some funds for gas, coffee, doughnuts, or whatever else might support the effort. Looks like you might be footing all that on your own. I’d like to help.

    • Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for offering! We do accept financial help at our Donate page, and every penny goes toward the effort. Nothing is lost to bureaucracy, wages, and such.

  14. Maica
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    You guys are amazing! The photos are priceless and speak volumes of the love and dedication that goes into this amazing volunteer effort. Our best wishes and hopes for the future go to all those in Japan from us in California. Our socks are on the way to you! Keep up the good work; you are appreciated. I shared your story with my son’s elementary school and hopefully lots of the kids will be sending socks to you too!

    Namaste,
    Maica

  15. Nancy Yeo
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Great work Jason and team!
    @Kevin: you are blessed with a great brother Jason!

  16. Posted April 28, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Sugoi!!! Look at all those socks!!!!

  17. Posted April 28, 2011 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    I have relayed your action on my blog and with all my friends and colleagues and collected 82 pairs of socks that I’ve sent you two weeks ago. The challenging part was to find a cheap shipment from France to Japan. But it was worth it reading your posts. Thank you for your daily (and night) dedication and your Sano-based volunteers, thanks for keeping us updated; I feel as if I was with you and all the people you visit in each shelter.

  18. Kevin Kelly
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    That is awesome. You guys have done so much for the people over there. I wish I could be there to lend a hand.

    • Posted April 28, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Kevin! It made my day to see your comment, brother. I wish you were here, too. You’d be great.

  19. Posted April 26, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Every single one of your reports makes me cry. It is overwhelming to see how much people’s hearts open when disaster strikes. It is also heartrending to see the need. Thank you so much for allowing each of us to contribute just a tiny bit! The people in Japan are in my heart even though I’ve never been there…

  20. Adele
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    You guys ROCK, absolutley awesome! The generosity that you have all shown is truly gut wrenching. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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