I have 27 pairs of underwear and, depending on the season, I wear them all. But I learned recently about some women who never wear underwear — because they can’t afford to buy it.
Marianne Booberg has met these women, so I’ll let her tell the story. It began in 2012, after she and some fellow members of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Midlothian’s Salisbury neighborhood distributed clothes at a three-day clinic that’s sponsored each July by the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. Booberg’s group set up tents on the Wise County Fairgrounds in Southwest Virginia, where some 1,500 volunteers help about 2,500 people from five states seeking free medical, dental and vision care.
“The medical volunteers stand in the heat for three solid days, many from VCU Medical Center, as well as from other places,” she says. Volunteers also include Bon Air Rotary Club members and a group of Bon Secours nurses.
“The first morning, we got there at 5:30 a.m. to set up our tents,” Booberg begins. “We weren’t supposed to open until 9. People were clamoring to see what we had by 7:30. The toys were ignored, as the children were so excited about the underwear. Everything was gone in minutes.
A woman came at 9 a.m. and was dismayed to learn there were no socks or underwear. She said, ‘I can get secondhand clothing for my children but not underwear because of health laws, and I don’t have money to buy it.’ The desperation in that woman’s face will never leave me,” Booberg continues, fighting back tears. “I came home and pledged in front of my entire congregation that the next summer I would bring as much underwear as I could possibly gather.”
Last winter, while Booberg was recuperating from foot surgery, her husband, Carl, inspired her to start making jewelry. She did so with no training, using her vivid imagination to make bracelets, earrings and other items. She decided to use the proceeds from sales of the jewelry to buy underwear and socks. “Carl suggested I name the jewelry Rocks for Socks,” says the retired educator. Booberg’s hobby has now become a passion. She raised about $3,500 last summer from jewelry sales. Combined with donations from several other local churches and schools, her group was able to provide about $7,500 worth of socks and underwear. “I packaged everything so each child would get five pairs of socks and five pairs of underwear. It was gone in two hours.” The group also took underwear for adults. “I said to one woman, ‘Your children are taken care of. Let’s get you some socks and underwear.’ She said, ‘Honey, I haven’t had any underwear in so long, I don’t even know what size I wear.’ I was shocked, and then I thought, if you don’t have money, what’s one thing you can do without? Underwear isn’t seen.”
New or gently used clothing and shoes can be donated every Saturday in June from 10 a.m. until noon at the church, located at 2341 Winterfield Road. Booberg will be there selling her jewelry, along with hand-dyed silk scarves, another venture she recently taught herself. She hopes to raise $15,000, doubling last year’s donations.
Booberg also wants to help women in Wise County increase their income. “If I can learn how to make jewelry and dye scarves, they can, too. I’ve developed a website on Etsy [etsy.com/shop/JewelsandSilks] where they can eventually sell what they make.” Rocks for Socks can also be purchased at Art on a Wire in Midlothian.
“Focusing on this mission has been a blessing and allowed me to give back,” Booberg says.
The next time I count my underwear, I plan to count my blessings as well.