12 year-old Rudy Washington is helping keep the homeless warm

hile riding down a street on a bitterly cold winter night, Rudy Washington and his parents noticed a homeless man sitting on the side of the road.

With nothing but a pair of boots that were two sizes too small to cover his feet in the frostbiting weather, the homeless man’s feet appeared to be stuck to the ice. So the Washingtons pulled over at a nearby gas station and bought more than 40 pairs of socks for the man.

In every encounter he has had since with men and women like that man on the side of the road, he often wonders how these people ended up alone on the streets. “A lot of them are very smart people,” says the Brownstown 12-year-old.

There are thousands of homeless people in metro Detroit, and keeping warm is difficult in colder months. Rudy’s mother, Starr Washington, saw a Facebook post noting that socks are often the most needed donations for the homeless but the least donated.

Rudy suggested a sock drive. The idea is simple yet powerful: “I hate having cold feet,” he says.

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In December of 2015, Rudy’s Sock Drive was born. It became an instant success and is now a 501(c)(3) that runs purely on donations. “Everything has just fallen into place,” Starr says.

It received so much exposure, in fact, that people from all over started donating socks. There have been some occasions where they’ve received as many as 10,000 pairs of socks at once. The organization recently partnered with a number of YMCAs here in southeast Michigan to do an even bigger sock drive this summer.

Keeping the homeless warm is just one of the missions close to Rudy’s heart. At the same time Rudy’s Sock Drive was created, Rudy kicked off No Bully Zone, a movement that he acts as a spokesperson for.

He knows firsthand what it’s like to stand up to a bully. At a previous school, when a good friend of his was constantly taunted and terrorized by another student, Rudy interfered and stood up for his friend – but in turn became the bully’s new target. “I actually got bullied out of my school,” says Rudy.

That painful experience not only gave him the courage to spread awareness and put an end to bullying, but also to help others who experience bullying know they’re not alone. Rudy gives presentations and speaks at school rallies across metro Detroit.

Not one to be shy of his other talents, Rudy has sung the national anthem for a crowd of about 40,000 people at Ford Field, has been in plays, plays instruments, swims and more.

But what makes Rudy a hometown hero is his courage, and he knows that courage leads to change. “What makes me happy is giving back to the community and helping kids make better choices,” he says.

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