BELFAST — As Christmas draws closer, shoppers searching for last-minute holiday treats and treasures will see a curious sight in the window of Belfast’s Colburn Shoe Store, on Main Street. While one window is decorated in typical holiday fashion, the other is filled with thousands of socks.
Roughly 4,000 pairs have made a pile so mighty the store’s owner, Colby Horne, is dwarfed by them.
Colburn’s, the oldest shoe store in America whose doors opened in 1832, was approached by United Way to participate in that nonprofit’s annual sock challenge. Colburn owner Colby Horne knew it was a good effort for the tightly-knit community.
United Way’s mission is to: “advances the common good in communities across the world. Our focus is on education, income, and health—the building blocks for a good quality of life,” according to its website.
The group hosts an annual sock drive for those in need and this year United Way of Eastern Maine approached a handful of area businesses to partner with them as drop-off locations, including Colburn’s.
According to the UWEM, socks are the number one requested item in homeless shelters and community centers across Eastern Maine, illustrating the importance of the sock drive.
“The [United Way] left this kind of a small box, and I was thinking, ‘you know what? We can definitely do better,’” Horne said. “I know we can fill this box up easily and I know we can fill the window if I put [the request] out there.”
The fact that such basic clothing as socks is topping holiday wish lists was striking to Horne.
“I was driving and I pulled over,” he said. “These kids are asking for socks for Christmas. Not an Xbox, not a new snowboard; they need socks. It just really hit me that such an essential item was at the top of the list.”
Horne knew just what to do.
“I jumped on Facebook immediately and put the challenge out there,” he said. “The community and my customers have got behind me on this and we’ve got upwards of 4,000 pairs of socks now.”
With so many socks, some might think the number of people donating might be well into the thousands, but Horne said that there were more than a few individuals who donated a large number of socks at a time.
According to Colburn’s Facebook page, donations have come from as far away as California.
“We’ve had people come in with hundreds of dollars worth of socks, we’ve had some really big donations from a lot of people,” Horne said.
He said donors are happy the drive is underway.
“They didn’t realize there was such a need, and it just made them feel so good to be able to help in this holiday season,” said Horne.
He plans to repeat the annual event.
“I think we have to.... When you blow it out like this?” he said, nodding at the towering pile of socks. “Next year we’re going to come back bigger and better and I think we can. That’s just the nature of our community and my customers, to be so generous and giving. They all have such big hearts and it makes us proud to look at that pile.”
The generosity of the community is something all the more notable due to the pandemic, which has left many struggling financially.
“It’s so amazing, tensions are so high amongst customers, the community, the country, the world… just to have that sense of gratitude and just a sense of feeling good, is amazing,” Horne said.
The sock drive will continue until the donations are picked up by UWEM on Tuesday.
“We’ve got this weekend to have one last push to really throw some socks in the window.”
Erica Thoms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org