MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Harsh winter weather extracts an added toll from our homeless populations. Hennepin EMS paramedics like John Sylvester, see the ravages of severe frostbite far too often.

“This is something we see and we treat every single day,” Sylvester said.

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But what troubles Sylvester and his EMS colleagues is that frostbite is totally preventable. Sadly, there’s the simple reality than many people on the streets lack even socks to wear.

“The warmer days and the colder evenings that we’ve been experiencing over the last couple of weeks are very dangerous times for people, because their feet sweat during the day and then get cold at night,” Sylvester said.

That’s what prompted Sylvester and his fellow paramedics to start a takeoff on the “ice bucket challenge.” But their campaign is to benefit cold feet.

Dr. John Gayken is a surgeon in Hennepin Healthcare’s burn unit. He often cares for the worst frostbite cases, often ending in amputation.

“We’re trying to raise awareness for people who are homeless or having hard times. People who don’t have adequate just something as simple as socks for shoes,” Dr. Gayken said.

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But more than even public awareness the campaign is generating donations of high quality winter socks. What’s needed are thick wool socks. That’s because wool helps retain body heat even when damp.

In just the first two weeks of the campaign the sock drive has generated more than 1450 pairs.

And with the real severe cold yet to come, Sylvester says the need is paramount.

“It absolutely is, and that’s why we want to do this now and capture the spirit of the holidays. But also get ahead of some very serious January weather we always get,” Sylvester said.

Most of the socks have already distributed to homeless outreach centers – helping many from becoming the next frostbite patient.

Besides actual sock donations, monetary gifts to the Hennepin Healthcare Foundation will help purchase additional socks for the program.

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