Jessica Baird is the founder of the Sock Project, which supports people with autoimmune and chronic illnesses by distributing fun and silly socks to brighten their days, and by raising funds for medical research at local hospitals. Baird is a lay minister in United and Anglican churches in Ottawa and is pursuing a master’s of divinity.
On her inspiration: I started having medical problems in 2017 and was later diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a kind of arthritis that affects my spine. I knew a family at church who had experience with lupus, and I reached out to them to say I was experiencing something autoimmune-related. They said it could take a long time to find a diagnosis, and to get one pair of silly socks to wear to all my medical appointments. I decided to try to get 365 pairs, one for every day of the year.
When my friends and family asked how they could support me, I asked for silly socks. One of my best pals gave me a pair that says “Fight like a girl!” as I began my journey. They reminded me that I’m a fighter in all that I endure. When I put on the socks from a particular person, I thought about them and all my memories of nice times with them — and everyone who sent me socks wrote personal, supportive notes.
On the project’s growth: I put out a YouTube video explaining my sock-a-day plan, and many people reached out to ask where they could send socks. I kept getting so many pairs. I had been talking to people on autoimmune-focused online forums, so I decided to start offering some sock cheer to them.
People would reach out when they knew someone who could use socks, and they started to ask about ways to send me money to get more, or to pay for shipping. It grew and turned into a charity. It’s been pretty Holy Spirit-led — a natural thing that took on its own form. It’s not just a charity but a ministry.
On healing: I focus on healing, a repairing and strengthening of the mind and spirit to improve quality of life even when no physical cure is possible. The Sock Project allows people to know that they are encouraged and cheered on, and with that comes an emotional healing.
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On the response: I get lots of thank-you letters and messages. In four years, I have received about 10,000 pairs of socks and $10,000. People tell me the socks made them feel special, that they got goosebumps and cried, and the next thing I know there’s a big donation coming in to the GoFundMe. The socks are reaching people globally, which I didn’t ever see happening. Australia has received many packages, and I recently sent one out to England.
On the future: The long-term goal is to fund research for autoimmune diseases globally, but I want to keep doing education and awareness as well. I’ll be working with the GO Project, a United Church ministry for children and youth, to create a Sunday school curriculum based on my project. I’ve done healing services in churches around Ottawa, where I connect it to that week’s Gospel. A friend wrote a children’s book about an otter with an autoimmune disease, and money from those sales is going into research. I’m going to continue spreading the word of kindness and hope and love. I see this as my life’s calling.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. It first appeared in Broadview’s December 2021 issue with the title “I’m spreading kindness and hope.”
Kate Spencer is a writer in Halifax.
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