While stocking the shelves of Roy’s Shoes with shiny leather flats, steel-toed boots and walking loafers, Jim Belshaw, a dedicated Rotarian and community activist, occasionally looked out the window of his Kelowna shoe store and saw the torn and tattered runners of homeless men and women on the street.
Belshaw saw an opportunity to provide footwear to those in need, and in 2010, he and fellow Rotarian Don Robichaud formed the local chapter of an international shoe charity based in the US. In the first year, they collected more than 40,000 pairs of shoes for the less fortunate in Canada and abroad. The next year, in 2011, Belshaw extended his efforts across British Columbia, and collected nearly 80,000 pairs of shoes.
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 time-consuming.
Why not partner with the Kelowna Community Food Bank to house a ‘shoe bank’ so everyone has access to shoe donations any time? In 2014, the shoe bank—set up like a shoe store—opened on Ellis Street, directly across from the food bank.
The space generated quite a buzz, and in the midst of it, Belshaw and his colleagues wondered if their shoe charity should focus more on taking care of Canadians in need. So, 2015 saw the birth of Shoe Bank Canada—a Kelowna-based Canadian shoe charity with dozens of permanent drop-off locations in cities across BC, Alberta and Ontario.
With the help of nearly 20 local service agencies guiding the qualifying process, dozens of volunteers, caring businesses acting as drop-off points and amazing shoe drives, in its first few months alone Shoe Bank Canada was able to provide more than 3,000 pairs of shoes to the working poor and homeless in 900 local households. Each spring, businesses and organizations across the country host Shoe Drives to collect thousands of shoes to make a difference in our communities and abroad.
Shoe Bank Canada’s donations go first to Canadians (in BC alone, shoes are shipped to 30 communities through 200 social agencies across BC). And then our shoe charity ships the excess to the less-fortunate overseas.
The result? With clean and comfortable footwear, men, women and children have the chance to experience a better quality of life as well as opportunities: With these shoes many recipients are able to get jobs that turns things around for their families.