Kim Eslinger

David Tinjum

Ryan Ojard
Staff Photographer

Claudia Kittock
Columnist / Non-Profits
Email Claudia...

Merle Minda
Small Business Columnist
Email Merle...

Michael Rainville Jr.
History Columnist
Email Michael...

Brianna Ojard

Meg Forney

Doug Verdier

Mill City Times is a not-for-profit community service.  We do not sell advertising on this site.

Cultural Cornerstones
Search Mill City
Recent News
Front Page Archives

Hippy Feet Gallery Event Celebrates Talented YouthLink Kids

Article by Claudia Kittock, Event photos by Rick Kittock

Think of your best pair of socks. Think of how comfortable they are and how much better they make you feel. Now imagine wearing those same pair of socks every single minute of every day for a month. They wouldn’t feel so warm and comforting then, would they? Socks are the most needed article of clothing for people experiencing homelessness, and the least donated. 

Enter Michael Mader, an extraordinary man. His intelligence and his hugely compassionate heart are immediately apparent. Michael is young, only a bit more than a year out of college, but what he is accomplished in that time is stunning. 

While sidelined with a traumatic brain injury from a skateboard accident, Michael came up an idea to manufacture socks, and for every pair of socks sold, he would donate a pair to someone experiencing homelessness. Michael was known for his outrageous socks, and decided to turn it into a business. After recovering from his accident, he returned to college, eager to finish his coursework and ‘get on with it’. He did just that. Finishing almost two semesters of work in one, and launching his company, Hippy Feet.

In the first 4 months of business, Hippy Feet sold over 3000 pairs of socks, and donated another 3000 pairs. Michael not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. He and others walk the streets of Minneapolis handing out socks to people in need. When I asked Michael why he thought of people experiencing homelessness, he was puzzled. “Why wouldn’t I think of them?” he answered.

Of course, his early success was not enough for Michael. He created a photography project for young people at YouthLink. Participants were given disposable cameras and asked to return the camera once the roll of film was completely filled. The 16 youth were asked to take photos that documented their day to day experiences as a homeless or formerly homeless individual. Each person was asked to write a quick journal about each photo. When the photographers filled the entire camera roll, they returned the camera and a copy of their journal entries to YouthLink. They received varying forms of compensation for their work.

The Hippy Feet team developed the photos and prepared them for the “gallery” event, Mile in My Socks, which was held on July 27 at Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul. The photos were displayed and sold at a silent auction. The proceeds from the sale of the photo were divided in 3 ways. An equal percentage was donated to YouthLink and to Elpis Enterprises, a non-profit partner of Hippy Feet that provides employment and job training to homeless youth. The remainder of the proceeds will be given back to the individual artist who took the photos as a form of commission

Anthony, a Mile in My Socks project contributor, discusses one of his photos with an event attendee.

We were there and the event was amazing. Each of the photographs told a different part of the story of people experiencing homelessness. The experience of homelessness is different for each individual, and the photographs from these artists were as different as their experience. One artist told me that his grandmother was a photographer, and he hoped that even though she died several years ago, she somehow saw what he was doing. We hope so too. She would be so very proud!

How can you help?

·  Buy Hippy Feet socks. Not only do they help someone in need, they are terrific socks.  

·  Learn more about YouthLink.

·  Join a group of us in participating in the September 24 Night of Hope. There will be more information about this event soon. Give it some thought!

Claudia can be reached at

« My North Series - 52 Minnesota Stories Leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl (Episodes 21-25) | Main | Washington Avenue Reconstruction Update »