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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After her own experience being hospitalized, Post Falls woman to donate over 200 pairs of cozy socks to behavioral health patients for Christmas

Shantelle Avery talks about the 218 pairs of socks she collected for Kootenai and Inland Northwest Behavioral Health on Wednesday at her Post Falls home. After being admitted to the Behavioral Unit at Kootenai Hospital for depression, she noticed fellow patients were not getting visitors, cards or gifts for Christmas while already isolated and sad. She decided to start a sock drive for the patients five years ago.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Thick, fleece-lined socks – 218 pairs – sit bundled in a Post Falls home ready for delivery Christmas morning to people who can feel isolated as the holiday nears.

The socks are gifts of encouragement for adults hospitalized at two regional behavioral health facilities.

Shantelle Avery, 30, has gathered the warmth for five Christmas seasons now, after her own struggle with mental health and being in the hospital before the holiday.

In December 2019, she stayed about five days for severe depression and anxiety in Kootenai Health’s behavioral care unit. She noticed some patients weren’t getting visitors, gifts or cards.

She went home a couple weeks before Christmas that year and couldn’t stop thinking about them. Then, a simple gesture came to mind.

“I finally remembered that the socks they give you there are scratchy, thin and uncomfortable,” Avery said. “I like a good pair of fuzzy socks, so I thought, what if I gave fuzzy socks and then paired them with some encouraging messages that really helped me.

“People rallied with me to make sure there was enough for that Christmas 2019.”

During the week before the holiday, she’ll hand off the socks for staff to give to each patient on Christmas morning at the Kootenai behavioral health unit and the Inland Northwest Behavioral Health facility in Spokane.

Friends, nonprofits and businesses such as Birdie’s Pie Shop, which does suicide awareness campaigns, donate to her each year to buy socks on Black Friday and during end-of-winter sales.

The first year, she gave 55 pairs of socks for patients, almost double the amount needed so that staff could give them to people entering care. She thought it might end there.

“In 2019 when I went to take the socks to the volunteer coordinator, she told me that nobody had ever donated anything for that unit of the hospital at Christmas. I had planned that this was going to be a one-year thing, but once she said that, I thought, I have to do something every year.”

Avery grew up in Indiana. She and her husband, Kyle, went to Iowa for school and then jobs. They moved to Post Falls five years ago and have two children, a daughter, 9, and son, 5.

Other than two serious bouts with depression and anxiety in 2019 and 2021, Avery said she’s doing well.

“For me, definitely medication and counseling, the combination of those two helped,” Avery said. “Also, I think it is overall wellness, so I eat right, exercise has been huge and sleep; so those overall, that if you’re not taking care of your body, it’s going to affect the mind.”

She said doctors found that a hormonal issue played a role in her depression and anxiety, so she said birth control pills and anxiety medicine help her.

“I still do counseling; there are lots of things that really help me.”

In 2021, while she returned as a patient to the Kootenai behavioral unit in summer-fall period, a staff member credited her creation of the unit’s Christmas sock donations.

“The staff member said that they and the patients cry at the love they feel on Christmas day,” Avery said. “Everyone is wearing their fuzzy socks, and it just brightens up the place. That really encouraged me, because I knew not only what it would do for me, but also that I was able to hear that it was helping people. I got that confirmation.”

Many of the socks have wintery patterns, and they all have non-skid soles. She also selects neutral ones if preferred by male or female patients.

Over the years, the number of socks have ranged from 100 pairs she gifted in 2020 to over 200. She has gathered some years just for Kootenai, but in 2021, she included Spokane’s Inland Northwest Behavioral Health.

Last year, she tried to include youths along with adults at just the Kootenai facility, so that meant hunting for different sizes and 257 pairs. The feedback wasn’t as positive for youth, so she’s returned to giving the gifts to adult behavioral health patients.

She includes an envelope with a note attached to the front explaining her story, and inside each one, she tucks 32 slips of paper with encouraging messages. One envelope goes with each pair of socks.

“I wish I could deliver them personally, but it’s all confidential, so it has to be done through staff.”

But her note on the envelopes’ front is meant to be both personal and encouraging.

“My name is Shantelle,” the note reads. “I have struggled with depression and anxiety for many years and have been hospitalized five times in critical moments of severe depression-anxiety. While I don’t know exactly what you are experiencing right now, I do know what it feels like to be at rock bottom, and to feel like your heart and life cannot heal again.

“I wanted to share some of the most powerful things people have shared with me in my moments of need that have uplifted and encouraged and strengthened me. I hope these messages can do that for you as well. I also hope that as you wear these fuzzy socks you will know that someone is thinking about you today and cheering you on.”

Two of her friends recently took her idea to gift fleecy socks to patients in behavioral health facilities in Wenatchee and Idaho Falls, she said. More people in her generation are discussing mental health, she added. When struggles began for her in 2016, she decided then to talk about the topic more, mostly on social media.

“I was reading something saying a lot of time we think of mental health differently because it’s not tied to a specific body part that is malfunctioning,” she said. “It made me think of it differently. It’s just part of your body that’s sick and needs care.”

Avery now has a Facebook page: Christmas Socks for Hope, with a plan eventually to create a nonprofit by the name. The Facebook page link is written on the envelopes, in case any patient in the future wants to reach out.

“What I say is that this project is meant to warm feet and warm hearts.”