COLUMBUS, Ohio — A curious conversation between a Clintonville mom and her young daughter has led to warmer feet for hundreds of needy people in Columbus.
Five years ago, Ruth Milligan and her daughter, Maggie Daiber, then 5, were talking socks — specifically, all the lonely, single socks that pop up in the laundry basket without a mate.
What if they gathered all their "sock widows" and tried to match them with the piles of mateless socks their friends undoubtedly had?
From that conversation came Maggie's Matches, a once-a-year effort to collect single socks, match them by size, weight and color, and donate them to sockless souls.
"It's really quite simple," said Milligan, an executive speech coach. "The first year, we had about 300 pairs. The next year, about 400. Then we skipped a year and last year collected about 700 pairs."
Milligan uses Facebook to guide odd socks their way. Maggie, now 10, and her brother, Joseph Daiber, 8, set up collection boxes at their schools. Friends mail socks or drop them off.
In mid-December, they have matching parties, enlisting the help of family members and Maggie's Girl Scout troop to sort the socks. Children's and adults' socks are separated into piles, which are then subdivided by type, color and weight.
Finally, the socks are laid on a table or floor or couch, and the matching begins.
"You have to separate them and separate them again and again," Milligan said.
Solid-color socks, especially those that are white or black, are the easiest to match.
Brightly colored ones with stripes, polka dots or other designs are the least likely to find mates, Maggie said.
Some singles are matched with singles of similar color, size and weight to make what Milligan likes to call "lightly matched" pairs. Socks in poor shape are thrown away.
Sadly, some socks never meet their match.
Milligan said the holidays are a good time to collect socks because people are cleaning out drawers to make room for new clothes. People sometimes donate matched pairs that they've outgrown or don't need.
"What I personally like is that this is something tangible we can do together as a family," Milligan said. "It costs us nothing but time.
"If you ask, everyone has socks that are not matched. There must be some psychology behind not throwing out socks."
Maggie and her mom haven't heard of any other sock-matching efforts, but a Google search turned up one that helps the Salvation Army in Calgary in western Canada.
Some friends have suggested that Maggie and her mom collect unmatched gloves, too, but they've rejected that idea.
"One glove from one family is not likely to match one from another family," Milligan said.
With her mother's help, Maggie built a website that explains the project, encourages others to start sock-matching efforts and shows Maggie giving a sock talk in a video.
Maggie's Matches has donated socks to homeless shelters and to the Clintonville Beechwold Community Resources Center, which passes out clothes to the needy in the neighborhood. This year, the socks will go to the resources center.
"Our intention was to give out socks when it's starting to get cold, so (people's) feet would be nice and cozy," Maggie said. "I think it's really nice."
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com