Colby Horne, the owner of Colburn Shoe Store in Belfast, hopes his customers will outdo themselves this year in the United Way of Eastern Maine's Neighbors United Sock Drive. Last year, people dropped off 6,000 pairs of brand-new socks at his shoe store for the drive. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — When Colby Horne was asked to fill a box with socks for people in need last year, he felt a pang of competitiveness. The owner of Colburn Shoe Store in downtown Belfast knew his customers could do better than one box.

Horne was right.

Instead of a box with socks, his customers donated 6,000 brand-new pairs, or nearly one for every person who lives in the midcoast city to a United Way of Eastern Maine sock drive.

He is hoping they will beat that number this year.  

“It got my competitive juices flowing,” he said.

This year, he’s hoping to outdo last year’s results. Horne started collecting socks last week and has already partly filled his store’s display window on Main Street.

The need for new socks is just as acute this year, Matt Donahue, chief impact officer at the United Way of Eastern Maine, said.

“Many of us take for granted having warm, dry socks, and that’s not the reality for many people, unfortunately,” Donahue said.

To get to that number of socks in 2020, Horne went all in. He put the word out about the sock drive on social media, and sweetened the pot by doing a gift card giveaway to a few of the sock donors. Horne also encouraged customers to get more socks for their bucks.

“My socks are expensive,” he wrote on Facebook. “Buy them if you wish. However, places like Marden’s, Renys, and Ocean State, are a great place to stretch your dollar.”

“We kind of take socks for granted,” Horne said Monday. “But if you’re homeless and struggling, you don’t.”

This year, Horne is employing similar strategies. He’s encouraging people to drop off socks in person, send them by mail or donate cash that he will stretch into “as many socks as possible.” He will also draw five names of people who donated socks and give them a $100 gift card to a local business of their choice.  

A lot of the socks donated in Belfast last year stayed right in Waldo County, where they were distributed through the Game Loft in Belfast, the Belfast Soup Kitchen and churches. Others were distributed elsewhere in the counties served by the United Way of Eastern Maine.

“Colburn is the knock it out of the park home run organization,” Donahue said. “He wanted to go all in, and that was great. Seeing a small business rally for people, and people they don’t know, it’s definitely heart-warming.”

The United Way of Eastern Maine’s Neighbors United Sock Drive will be held from Monday, Nov. 29 – Friday, Dec. 10, although Colburn Shoe Store in Belfast already has begun collecting donated socks. Other locations collecting socks include Valentine Footwear, Epic Sports and Sam’s Club in Bangor, Winterport Boot Shop in Brewer, Curtis Family Shoes in Ellsworth, Ellsworth City Hall and Marden’s in Brewer, Ellsworth and Lincoln.