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Ryerson grad gives back with unique sock vending machine

Marisa Sheff says small acts of kindness can make a big impact
By: Lindsey Craig
December 03, 2019
From left: Marisa Sheff and Voula Cocolakis holding a pair of socks in front of a sock vending machine

Ryerson grad Marisa Sheff, left, and Voula Cocolakis, executive director, University Business Services, right, in front of Sheff’s charitable sock vending machine at Ryerson. For every pair of novelty socks purchased, a plain pair of complimentary socks will drop down simultaneously for donation. Photo: Lindsey Craig/Ryerson University.

When Marisa Sheff found out that socks were the most needed but least donated items at homeless shelters, she wanted to do something to help.

“I think it’s really important to give back,” said the Ryerson alum, who graduated with a bachelor of design (fashion communications) in 2004. “My parents always taught me the importance of that.”

So, Sheff came up with a unique concept: a charitable sock vending machine. For every pair of novelty socks purchased, a basic pair of grey cotton socks pops out too.

The buyer can place the second pair in the donation bin attached to the side of the vending machine, or hand them directly to someone in need.

“The machine relies on the honour system. That was really important to me – to try and encourage and empower people to do the right thing,” Sheff said.

She chose to locate the vending machine at Ryerson University – across from the ServiceHub in the Podium Building, external link – to help give back to her alma mater and the less fortunate in the surrounding downtown community.

Voula Cocolakis, executive director, University Business Services, said she was thrilled when Sheff approached her.

“I thought, ‘What a fantastic idea. What a wonderful way to give back to our community,’” Cocolakis said.

Pair of hands holding two pairs of socks

Sock Footage founder Marisa Sheff holds a pair of donation socks along with one of the hottest selling pairs of men’s novelty socks – featuring bottles of Sriracha hot sauce. Photo: Lindsey Craig/Ryerson University.

Socks create media buzz

The sock vending machine was installed at Ryerson Nov. 19 and quickly began turning heads.

Not only from staff and students – but media, too. Sheff did interviews with Global News, CBC Toronto, external link, CBC’s Here and Now, external link and was featured in BlogTO, external link.

“I would never think to donate socks, when I found out they’re the most in demand I was actually quite surprised. So, I think it’s a great way to bring about awareness.”

Nathan Delacroix, 18, Ryerson nursing student

Ryerson nursing student Nathan Delacroix, 18, supported the initiative right away.

“It’s nice to know that the clothing you buy also supports someone else,” he said, adding that he bought a pair of beer stein socks “to be fun and festive”.

“I would never think to donate socks, when I found out they’re the most in demand I was actually quite surprised. So, I think it’s a great way to bring about awareness,” he said.

It’s comments like these that are most rewarding for Sheff. When she first launched her company’s website in August, it was mostly family and friends making purchases online.

Today, that’s completely changed.

She’s now getting messages from all over, and social media posts have sparked hundreds of likes and comments.

“That fuels my fire the most, when random people reach out and people are so excited about the concept,” Sheff said, noting that she’s encouraging followers to use the hashtag #PAYITFOOTWARD when posting about the impact of their donations.

Acts of kindness ‘really do make an impact’

One message that stood out was from a woman who was heading downtown and wanted to know how she could find the vending machine.

“Then, she wrote again to say she’d given the socks to someone on the street directly,” Sheff said.

“That’s what it’s all about, you know, not just giving back, but also taking the opportunity to connect with others. It can make such a huge difference in someone’s day,” she said, noting that part of her inspiration came from volunteering with homeless people through CAMH, external link.

“I’ve been very lucky in my own life and am grateful for that. I feel a responsibility to give back to those who haven’t been as fortunate,” she added.

Ryerson goes ‘the extra mile’

Bringing the initiative to Ryerson has also been a way for her to do that.

“Ryerson was so good at bringing industry people in, I thought this might be neat for students to see too,” she said, recalling contests involving Flare magazine and McGregor socks.

Sheff says her program, part of the Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD), helped set her up for success.

“It made me a jack of all trades – it wasn’t just fashion, it was the marketing, the event planning, web design, photography. We got our hands and feet wet in everything,” she said, noting she’s held jobs with various apparel companies– including a sock manufacturer.

It all came in handy when launching Sock Footage.

“I didn’t have to outsource a lot of things that other entrepreneurs would have to,” she said.

Sheff’s sock vending machine will be at Ryerson for a year. The socks are also available for purchase online by visiting sockfootage.com, external link.

#PayItFootward:

Facebook: @sockfootageco, external link
Twitter: @sockfootageco, external link

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