Kelowna shoe charity Soles4Souls slips on a new name

From steel-toed boots and children’s gym sneakers to high heels, organizers hope to collect tens of thousands of pairs of shoes this month.

Following a name change to Shoe Bank Canada

To help more Canadians, the Kelowna-based charity that brings footwear to those in need has changed its name from Soles4Souls to Shoe Bank Canada.

On the heels of its name change, Shoe Bank Canada will kick off its sixth annual shoe drive this week in Kelowna.

From steel-toed boots and children’s gym sneakers to high heels and comfy runners, organizers hope to collect tens of thousands of pairs of shoes throughout the Interior this month.

Steve Goddard, Shoe Bank Canada co-founder, board member and volunteer, says he sees first-hand every day how outfitting a fellow in a pair of boots or finding a pair of pumps for a woman helps them get jobs that turn things around for families.

“We’ve helped put a lot of people back to work, and that’s one of the most rewarding things about what we do,” said Goddard, who says recipients often visit the Shoe Bank to thank volunteers’ days after earning a position.

“They’re just so appreciative. Barely a day goes by when we don’t have somebody in tears in there.”

Kelowna’s less fortunate began receiving footwear this way six years ago when Jim Belshaw, owner of Roy’s Shoes, founded a local chapter of Soles4Souls, an international shoe charity based in the US.

Before sending footwear across the border and overseas, Belshaw always saw to the needs of locals, and agencies were soon calling him regularly with requests.

But digging through boxes after hours to find a runner in an eight or a boot in a nine became a little time-consuming.

And then Belshaw had a big idea: Why not partner with the Kelowna Community Food Bank to house a shoe bank so everyone has access to shoe donations any time?

Last July, the Shoe Bank—set up like a shoe store—opened on Ellis Street, directly across from the food bank.

“We’ve had such an amazing response,” said Goddard. “It’s been incredible.”

Since the summer, and with the help of nearly 20 local service agencies guiding the qualifying process, the Shoe Bank has provided more than 3,000 pairs of shoes to the working poor and homeless in 900 households.

In the midst of all the buzz, the Soles4Souls board of directors wondered if the Kelowna group should focus more on taking care of Canadians in need.

Soon after, Soles4Souls Kelowna became Shoe Bank Canada, a Kelowna-based national organization with dozens of permanent drop-off locations in cities across B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

“This is about Canadians helping Canadians first,” said Belshaw. “There’s such a need here, so we’re making a difference in our own backyard first, as well as overseas.”

Instead of heading to the US for worldwide distribution, shoe donations now first go to Canadians.

In B.C. alone, shoes are shipped to 30 communities through 200 social agencies across the province. And then excess is shipped to the less-fortunate abroad.

Here in Kelowna, storefronts and businesses such as Starbuck’s, Tom Harris Cellular, McDonald’s, and Capri Insurance have offered to host drop boxes for shoe donations.

Another critical source of donations is Shoe Bank Canada’s annual spring shoe drive, taking place in Kelowna April 27 to May 24.

“This is one of those little things you can do to really feel good and help make a difference,” said Goddard.

To make a shoe donation:

• Ensure shoes are gently used and suitable for wear

• Please use an elastic or tie shoelaces to keep shoes together

• Look for a shoe drive or permanent collection box in your area, or find a location near you on the Shoe Bank Canada website.

Shipping all those boots and pumps across Canada adds up—it costs about $1 to ship one pair of shoes—so, individuals and groups are also welcome to donate funds towards shipping.


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