Teacher Linda Creason has gotten help from her kindergarten students and their parents in collecting new socks and underwear for the Gospel Rescue Mission’s Women & Children’s Center. Over the years other classrooms at Vail Academy and High School have joined in.

Benjie Sanders / Arizona Daily Star

Twelve years ago when kindergarten teacher Linda Creason helped take clothing donations from her church to a local shelter for women and children, she wanted to do more for the residents.

“I started thinking what would these little guys need that maybe they’re not getting in these bags of clothes that people donate,” Creason said. “And it dawned on me that these little guys never have new underwear and new socks ... and it kind of occurred to me that those are things you should have new, not somebody else’s hand-me-downs.”

She made a stocking, about 4 feet tall, from holiday fabric to hang in her classroom and sought the help of her kindergarten students and their parents to donate new packages of socks to fill the giant stocking.

She tells the kindergartners about the Gospel Rescue Mission’s Women & Children’s Center and how it’s kind of like a big apartment complex where kids and their mommies, who don’t have homes, live in rooms that have a little bathroom and a sleeping area and they share meals with other mommies and their kids in a bigger room.

“What’s so nice about it is that they have a place to live,” Creason said she tells her students. “But, what’s not so nice about it is that sometimes they don’t have very many things, they don’t have very many toys, they don’t have very many clothes and one thing they don’t have is socks and underwear.”

Then she tells the kids that they have a chance to help these mommies and their children by donating socks and underwear.

When she first started collecting donations, 12 years ago, Creason’s class was the only one that participated. Now, all of the kindergarten through sixth-grade classes at Vail Academy and High School have jumped on board. About three years ago, students started bringing in new packages of underwear in addition to the socks.

“My parents have just been enormously generous,” she said.

On average, students donate between 300 to 400 pairs of new socks. One year they donated 900 pairs, Creason said.

“It was beyond my wildest dreams that we would ever collect that many socks,” she said.

Creason begins collecting donations around Thanksgiving until the students’ last day of school before winter break. The first day of break Creason takes the donations to the center housed in a renovated motel on Miracle Mile.

The center provides short-term and extended housing for women and women with children and offers services to help residents get back on their feet including addiction recovery programs, parenting classes, and career development.

The shelter can accommodate about 75 people and its 32 rooms are almost always full with several women on a waiting list, said executive director Roy Tullgren.

Clothing for all ages and sizes is always in need by the Gospel Rescue Mission, which not only provides clothing for those in the organization’s shelter and recovery programs, but also other community members in need, Tullgren said.

“It’s one thing to wear somebody’s used secondhand shirt or secondhand pants, but I don’t think you want to wear somebody’s secondhand underwear and socks,” Tullgren said.

When people arrive at the shelter, oftentimes they have only one or two pairs of socks that are usually worn and tattered, he said.

For a homeless person who walks anywhere between five and 10 miles a day, having a good pair of socks is important, Tullgren said.

And when men and women who receive services from Gospel Rescue Mission hear that donations of new undergarments have arrived, they rush to the clothing room to see if they can get some, Tullgren said.

Creason is set to retire at the end of the school year. She said she hoped the holiday tradition wouldn’t end with her and was happy to hear one of the school’s high school teachers wanted to take over the donation collecting duties.

“It’s too valuable of a lesson for our children to learn about giving, and I didn’t want that to die and I didn’t want the giving to die, too,” she said.

Creason recalled one time when she dropped off hundreds of pairs of collected socks a staff member told her was enough to provide for residents for a whole year.

“It just makes you feel good when know that some little kiddo who’s been abandoned from their home for whatever reason is just gonna have clean underwear and clean socks,” Creason said.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.