12/01/2011 03:13 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2012

There Are No Stereotypes When It Comes to Homelessness

Over the past 12 months I, along with the rest of the nation, have been intrigued by the media broadcasting concerning this new economic class widely labeled as "the new poor." Being a college student in my early-20s, I thought that "the new poor" was some media hoax to entice viewers into watching interest pieces. However, this summer on my No Nonsense Socks for America tour, a 3,500-mile sock-donating odyssey, I witnessed firsthand the faces of this new version of the poor, who, heartbreakingly, were often surprisingly young.

I remember my first encounter with "the new poor" rather vividly as it truly altered my perceptions. My documentary partner, Daniel, and I were nervously shooting our first day of footage at the Marian House of the Catholic Charities in Colorado Springs. As it turned out, this day was filled with a number of firsts. It was our first day ever actually shooting a documentary, our first charity stop on the tour, our first time inside a soup kitchen, and our first time seeing the impact of something as simple as a sock donation on people who were in need.

Our big box of No Nonsense socks was greeted with open, grateful arms. We soon learned that when people first become homeless, they usually experience health complications in their feet soon after. Socks aren't really the cheapest amenity in the world, but they are extremely important, especially for people who spend most of their time on their feet. We were told that often in the winter those in poverty are lucky if they have even one pair of socks to keep their feet warm. This pair of socks is rarely ever taken off which can eventually lead to foot rot and, in too many cases, foot amputations. All of this because socks are one of the least donated items to charity. The impact of something as simple as a pair of socks on someone's life truly amazed me.

While at the Marion House, I remember shooting footage for the documentary of the line at the soup kitchen. It dawned on me that these people weren't all dressed in the stereotypical, impoverished garb that pop-culture had led me to accept as "homeless attire"; these people were in suits and business-professional attire. Many of the people in line were around the age of my parents and could very well have children and families of their own. I realized that my idea of homelessness had been influenced by stereotypes. After the soup kitchen, that idea shattered since these people were like people I knew. They led lives I could relate to, and then all of a sudden they had the rug pulled out from under them. What struck me was there was a real possibility that this could happen to me and to my family. Somewhere there were kids my age and even younger that were struggling just to eat, and from the long line at this soup kitchen, there were far too many of them.

Over the next week and a half, I kept taking note of the homeless families' appearances at the charities I visited, as well as how many children were in need of basic necessities. There were newborns in need of baby formula, diapers, and of course socks. We saw toddlers and even teenagers, all of whom were just happy to get a pair of "freshies," as some kids called the fresh socks we passed out. The Institute for Children and Poverty estimates there are over 1.35 million homeless children in America. Daniel and I started wondering what would become of these children, and then we visited a school called Positive Tomorrows, which caters to a very unique student body -- homeless children.

According to its Website, "Within five years, Positive Tomorrows will be a fully-funded, regionally-accredited school with the staff and facilities to provide homeless children, preschool through 12th grade, with a well-rounded education, as well as life skills programs for their families." A consequence of homelessness for children is the lack of schooling due to the unstable lifestyle they are forced to live. Positive Tomorrows, located in Oklahoma, functions with the goal of educating those who otherwise wouldn't have a chance to attend school. To witness these children learning and being offered the opportunities they deserve was truly heartwarming.

When we sat down to talk with the staff and volunteers, they confirmed something we had been hearing all throughout the country. First, that volunteering and giving back was one of the most enjoyable activities a person could participate in. Second, socks were one of the most needed items by organizations helping people deal with poverty or homelessness.

On our trip we discovered how incredibly great the need was; it was astounding how people from all different walks of life were suffering during these trying times. Yet, the most inspiring thing was the significant number of people wanting to help those around them. Whether it is with a church, a soup kitchen, or an event organized by the community, there are a plethora of opportunities available for everyone to help...of course, don't forget to bring a couple fresh pairs of No Nonsense socks to donate as well. They will be gratefully received and appreciated.