Shoe bank fundraiser putting its best foot forward in Kelowna

The annual Barefoot On The Boardwalk event goes this Saturday in City Park to aid Shoe Bank Canada.

For the shoe charity that puts footwear on those in need, it seemed only fitting that its annual fundraiser would give participants a chance to “walk a mile in their shoes.”

The Kelowna-based Shoe Bank Canada is hoping as many as 300 people will slide off their flip-flops and sneakers to join in the upcoming Barefoot on the Boardwalk fundraiser.

“We’re all about putting shoes on people’s feet, and charities need income to make good things happen,” said Shoe Bank Canada co-founder Jim Belshaw.

“There are so many runs and walks in this city, we wanted to do something a little different and make it meaningful to our mission, as well as fun and family-friendly.”

Barefoot on the Boardwalk, which take place Sept. 12 and see participants gather at Kelowna City Park Boardwalk (near the water park at Hot Sands Beach) before walking two kilometres barefoot.

About 130 people registered for the inaugural Barefoot on the Boardwalk, which raised critical shipping and operational funds for the shoe bank.

“For every dollar we raise, we can put a pair of shoes on someone,” said Belshaw, who is remind ing participants that if they were to get 10 pledges of just $10, that will help pay for 100 pairs of shoes.

“That would go a long, long way,”  he added.

Belshaw, owner of Roy’s Shoes in downtown Kelonwa, opened the shoe bank in 2010, shortly after a massive earthquake struck Haiti.

After a shoe drive that saw locals donate nearly 45,000 pairs of shoes, Belshaw opened a local warehouse for donated shoes, a place to store them before sending them overseas.

“It became apparent so quickly that the need for footwear locally is so great, and just as important,”  said Belshaw.

Since then, the charity has been committed to helping the less fortunate in the Okanagan first before shipping shoe donations overseas, and to facilitate that, in July 2014, the organization opened a shoe bank, set up just like a shoe store, across the road from the Kelowna Community Food Bank.

With the help of nearly 20 local service agencies guiding the qualifying process and handing out “shoe vouchers,” the shoe bank has provided 4,000 pairs of shoes to those in need in Kelowna.

As a national organization now, with shoe drives and permanent drop-off sites across BC, Alberta and Ontario, shoes are also shipped to 30 other B.C. communities before excess footwear is shipped overseas.

In addition to shoes for warmth, comfort, many working poor individuals have been able to secure work having the proper footwear such as steel-toed boots or dress shoes.

Registration for Saturday’s Barefoot on the Boardwalk event is $20 for individuals and $100 for a team of six. Each registrant will receive a t-shirt and a bottle of water. Register online at FreshAir.ca or in person at both Fresh Air locations and at Roy’s Shoes until 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11. Last-minute registrants will be accepted from 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at the event.