Now that the warmer weather is here, many people will be discarding used pairs of winter footwear that have been outgrown or that they no longer want. Rather than throwing them out, however, they can be donated to a good cause: Kelowna-based charity Shoe Bank Canada, which is launching its annual Shoe Drive on April 1.
Shoe Bank Canada is the brainchild of Kelowna businessman Jim Belshaw, who in early 2010 had bought a shoe store and shoe repair business in Kelowna. Shortly thereafter came the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, which killed more than 160,000 people and displaced some 1.5 million more.
“My wife and I thought we had to do something,” says Belshaw, “and we thought of shows.” He found out about a U.S.-based charity called Soles for Souls, which does relief work around the world be providing pairs of shows to those in need. Belshaw thought they might collect 2,000 to 3,000 pairs of shows for the charity, and ended up with 45,000 pairs.
He and his wife opened their doors to local groups, and found out what the need was in the local area. After four years of being a Soles for Souls representative in Canada, Belshaw decided that charity begins at home, and founded Shoe Bank Canada to serve Kelowna and area. The organization now serves 35 communities in B.C. and Alberta, working closely with Food Bank BC and Shelter Bank BC to identify those in need. Some 60 to 75 families are referred to the Shoe Bank in Kelowna each week, while others receive shoes that are sent to local groups from Shoe Bank Canada after they’ve been sorted by volunteers.
“Since 2014 we’ve supplied more than 29,000 pairs of shoes to people in B.C. and Alberta,” says Belshaw, “and 12,000 pairs to families in Kelowna alone.”
He notes that with the change in seasons comes a need for running shoes. “They’re our most requested shoe at this time of year.” He adds that summer shoes and sandals are also in demand now.
Steel-toed work boots are needed all year round. “We get calls every week from agencies helping people get back to work, saying this young lady or gentleman has a job but needs work boots. Nine times out of 10 we’ll be able to help, and if not we’ve even gone out and bought them from thrift stores. What’s really cool to see is after they get those work boots and get the job, they get a couple of paycheques and then donate the boots back.”
The 2016 Shoe Drive is the sixth annual one, with Shoe Bank Canada looking for new or gently used pairs of footwear of all types. Belshaw says that a new program in association with Big Brothers/Big Sisters will help get more shoes on the feet of children. “We’ll be liaising with schools, teachers, and families throughout the Okanagan,” he says, noting that the Shoe Bank needs to increase its stock of children’s footwear to facilitate the new program. “These are often single-parent and/or low-income families with kids who desperately need a decent pair of shoes, and the parents need to put food on the table and a roof over everyone. The last thing they have a budget for is new shoes.”
Although the charity is based out of Kelowna, drop-off boxes are available at many businesses around the province. Anyone in the vicinity of Kamloops can drop off footwear at Capri Insurance (Brock Shopping Centre and Tudor Village locations); Tom Harris TELUS Cellular (North Hills and Summit Shopping Centre locations); and Starbucks Coffee (Kamloops Chapters; Columbia Place; Columbia Street and 3rd; Cityview, Summit, and North Hills Shopping Centres; and Valleyview locations).