Kathy Francis had been a nurse for 20 years, but it wasn't until she had back surgery that she took issue with what happens to socks given to patients after those patients leave the hospital.

Unless a patient wants to keep them, the socks get thrown out.

Now that it was her socks headed for the trash, it struck her as wasteful. There had to be an alternative, she thought.

So six months after the surgery, when she was hired at OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital, she proposed a plan to her bosses.

Francis told them if people deposited used socks in a utility closet at the hospital, she would wash them and find them a new home.

With the help of Tony Bonacci, a deacon at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Plain City, Francis has done just that -- for nearly eight years.

Francis estimates that more than 13,000 pairs of socks have been donated to Holy Family Soup Kitchen in Columbus' Franklinton neighborhood. They are given to people who are homeless or have other needs.

"They get a second life for a little bit and make someone's life a little easier, even if it's for a few hours," said Brother Paul Martin Kennedy, director of the Holy Family Soup Kitchen.

As temperatures begin to drop, the socks help people who are homeless with the ever-present need to stay warm, Bonacci said.

Francis said she collects about 35 pairs per week after her shifts in the hospital's surgery and recovery unit.

She takes the thick, usually yellow socks with non-slip grips home in clear, plastic bags, then washes them with a dash of bleach.

She folds them and puts them in brown paper bags that keep them from unfolding.

Once she has a couple of bags, Francis takes the socks to Bonacci's office at St. Joseph.

Bonacci delivers the socks to Holy Family. He also drops off plastic containers donated from parishioners so people can take leftover food.

When Francis hatched the idea to save the socks from the landfill, she asked Bonacci if he knew of an organization that could use them.

The retired pharmacist said he knew just the place: Holy Family, where he has volunteered in the kitchen for more than two decades.

Francis said she would like the donations to expand to the rest of her hospital and other hospitals.

"Can you imagine all the socks from the hospitals around town that are trashed?" Bonacci asked Francis recently.

"I try not to," she said.

But when Francis does consider it, she thinks about the effect it could have on the homeless community if other hospitals joined in the effort.

For starters, she'd need some help doing the laundry.

"I don't want to wash a thousand pairs of socks a week," she said, "but I hope it catches on."

kstankiewicz@dispatch.com

@kevin_stank