In the universe of Valentine’s Day gifts, socks may not be at the top of the list. But sometimes the unusual things mean the most.

For people who are on their feet a lot, socks are important. And among those who are on their feet a lot are active duty members of the military. Homeless people are as well.

So when they receive a gift of new socks it’s a big deal.

Doing their part to contribute are the young men behind Socks for Soldiers, a club at Wilton High School that’s been going strong for 11 years. Leading the group this year are seniors Jake Zeyher, Connor Burke and Jack Savarese.

They manage four collections a year and are in the throes of their Valentine’s Day Drive with the club’s associate program coordinators Eli Ackerman, Tyler Casey and Roen Crameri along with collectors Patrick Burke, Sam Gioffre, Quinn Kiss, Colin Lenkold, Ryan Leung, Dominick Polito and James Vollmer.

To raise visibility, Jake said, they send emails to school staff, post flyers, reach out to the newspaper and talk about it whenever they can.

“We did a segment about the upcoming drive on the school news show,” Jack said.

Donation boxes are set up outside the high school’s main office on the second floor lobby and outside Dann Pompa’s door in the school counseling wing. Socks may be dropped off any time between now and then when school is in session.

Along with new, white tube socks as well as “warm fuzzy socks,” gloves, mittens, hats and scarves. In addition, personal hygiene items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, non-perishable foods and household cleaners are needed.

The first drive of the school year culminated on Veterans Day, when the students gave the drive a big visibility boost. Jake, Conner and Jack ran the school’s Veterans Day assembly, something that had previously been handled by school staff.

It was at the suggestion of their adviser, Dann Pompa, that they got involved last year and then took the reins this year. Going forward, “there will always be students on it,” Pompa said.

At that assembly, Jake told his fellow students “This is our way of saying ‘thank you’ and giving back to the brave men and women who have served and those who continue to protect our country. It is imperative that we take the time to do this as it is the least we can do in return for the sacrifice our veterans have made for us. That is why we are gathered here today, and that is why Socks for Soldiers continues to hold drives and donate goods.

“In a letter to Socks for Soldiers, Chaplain Brian Palmer wrote, ‘I remind my soldiers they are not forgotten and point to these care packages as proof that they are remembered and loved by those whom they will probably never meet.’”

Knowing they have helped others, many of whom they will never meet, is important to the students.

Connor, who has been a group leader for two years, said he got involved because members of his family have served in the military or as firefighters. “It’s a great thing we do,” he said. “It’s something you can stand behind.”

Jack, in his first year as a leader, agreed, saying “it’s a great cause. It’s bigger than the high school.”

“When you know you can make a difference, it feels good and you know you’re doing something good for other people,” said Jake, who has been a group leader for three years.

Steady donations

Socks for Soldiers was formed at the high school in December 2008, shortly after Wilton High School graduate Nick Madaras was killed while serving in the Army in Iraq. At his church, Pompa came across women knitting socks for soldiers and he decided to bring the concept to the school, collecting white socks.

Donations are steady, Jake said, adding they collected about 1,000 pairs last year. All told, over the past 11 years, the club has collected nearly 14,000 pairs of socks.

Why socks?

“We’ve had letters emphasizing how few socks they have,” Connor said. When someone is deployed, “their socks get wet and gross, and it’s nice to have clean socks.”

“You step in the mud, your socks get dirty, your feet get blistered. It’s rejuvenating putting on fresh socks.”

In addition to the drive that ended on Veterans Day, and the current Valentine’s Day drive, the club ran a holiday drive and a spring drive.

Some of the socks and other collected items are brought to the three Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport. Packages are also given to Kick for Nick for delivery to active service men and women, and to Provisions for Patriots in Georgia which distributes socks to homeless veterans.

That takes money. Each box costs $20 to mail and the club sent four boxes in November and two boxes in December. There are more socks ready to go next month. Sometimes they run bake sales and sometimes money comes out of pocket.

Sometimes they just take the time to deliver the boxes themselves to Bridgeport.

“We get to see the people the socks are going to,” Jack said. “No matter where they are, they are just incredibly thankful.”

“It creates a more personal feeling rather than just shipping them out,” Connor said. “It makes us want to do more.”