neaTODAY reporting out of Michigan wrote that one morning last February, Martha Alvarez pulled out of the bus barn of Traverse City Area Public Schools in Northern Michigan as she’s done for almost two decades. It was 18 degrees F. outside.
“In cold weather like that, I get my students inside the bus as efficiently as possible, especially the little ones,” says Alvarez. When a kindergartener boarded the bus at one of the last stops, she was in tears. Her feet were cold, she told Alvarez.
“It was a Thursday,” says Alvarez, who sat the five-year-old girl near a heater and immediately noticed through a broken zipper in the child’s vinyl boots that she was not wearing socks. “It shook me up visibly, really bad.”
Alvarez mentioned the kindergartener to other school staff and was shocked to learn that there were many students attending school without socks, or with mismatched or worn-out socks. On the drive back to school the next morning, Alvarez asked bus passengers if they needed warm socks. About six hands shot straight up on her first route with another six on her second route. She carries about 45 students on each route.
“That was it,” says Alvarez, a Michigan Education Association (MEA) and NEA board member and graduate of the Leaders for Tomorrow program sponsored by NEA’s Education Support Professional (ESP) Quality Department.
“If I’ve learned anything from my MEA and NEA leadership training, I’ve learned that you need to be part of the solution to help students,” she says. “It didn’t matter why the kids didn’t have socks. Maybe it was due to poverty or neglect. What mattered was that they needed socks to stay healthy and be ready to learn.”
Alvarez conceived of the Warm Toes Sock Drive to generate donated socks for students. With assistance from fellow education support professionals (ESPs), she produced flyers and signs and sent them to local schools and businesses appealing for help.