Special to the Review
Shoe Bank Canada is a national charity organization that collects donations of new and gently used shoes in order to redistribute them to people in need of quality footwear.
The organization is the brainchild of Jim Belshaw, a resident of Kelowna who is a shoe cobbler by trade.
He first conceived of the charity as a one-off shoe drive campaign in response to the 2010 earthquake disaster that devastated the island nation Haiti.
He mobilized some friends to help and they began with the goal of receiving 25,000 shoes (12,500 pairs) in 25 days. Belshaw admitted that he was unsure whether that was a realistic goal at the time, but he was (pleasantly) overwhelmed with the response.
In the first week, they received over 4,000 pairs of shoes and by the end of the campaign, they had blown the goal of 25,000 shoes out of the water and received a whopping 45,000 shoes.
He was not only overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of Kelowna but also by needing to figure out where to put all of these shoes and how to distribute them to those in need.
Belshaw said that, initially, he paired up with the U.S. based organization Soles 4 Souls which works to distribute donated shoes to people in need around the globe.
But, he became aware of the overwhelming need for quality footwear for people in his own community, across the province and Canada-wide.
Belshaw then set about registering the organization as the Shoe Bank Canada which focuses on distributing quality footwear to individuals in need within Canada.
Belshaw said he is touched by the generosity of so many community members, not just donating new and gently used shoes, but also by volunteering their time and donating warehouse space or transportation services.
After some growth and transitions, Shoe Bank Canada is now located across the street from the food bank in Kelowna, at 9-368 Industrial Ave.
Space is made available from the food bank and is set up as, what Belshaw refers to a free shoe store, where people are able to come in look around and find the shoes that suit their needs.
The Shoe Bank partners with various provincial agencies and organizations in order to connect their inventory of quality shoes to those in need throughout the province.
According to Bertha Stone, of Revelstoke Mental Health and Substance Use Services, many people in Revelstoke have benefited from the charity.
Belshaw said that the distribution happens in two major ways. Either the individuals are given a referral slip from an agency or organization which they can essentially redeem for footwear of their choice from the free shoe store. Or, the Shoe Bank Canada also ships boxes of shoes to various provincial agencies to be distributed by the agency directly to their clients or to people in need of them within that community.
As the charity has grown and evolved over the past nine years, so has Belshaw’s vision for its future.
Shoe Bank Canada is currently raising funds and accepting volunteers to help retrofit a large cargo vehicle and turn it into a mobile free shoe store. The mobile free shoe store, once completed, will make regular visits to remote and rural communities to offer shoes to individuals in need, as well as to accept donations.
For more information about The Shoe Bank Canada, or to volunteer or donate, head to their website at shoebankcanada.org.