Every woman with big feet knows what it means to get a pair of shoes that look good, and feel good. The boost that comes from having footwear to be proud of can be priceless. That’s why Isy B. Shoes are proud to support US-charity Big Hearts Big Soles. They collect and distribute large size shoes to homeless people and disadvantaged children in the Boulder, Colorado area and beyond. We caught up with the Co-Founder of Big Hearts Big Soles, Elizabeth McKenzie, to find out how the charity affects the lives of the people they work with.
“It makes them so happy to get a pair of shoes that fit, it almost makes me sad,” McKenzie said of the people her charity has helped. “It’s something so simple that we all take for granted.”
McKenzie came up with the idea behind Big Hearts Big Soles by chance. Shopping at her local Salvation Army thrift store, she overheard the clerk talking to Co-founder Kerri Scharfenberg on the phone about sourcing size 17 shoes for a local young homeless man. Touched by the realization that finding large-size shoes at thrift stores must be almost impossible, McKenzie asked for local homeless and runaway shelter drop-in centre worker Scharfenberg’s phone number, and Big Hearts Big Soles was born.
By calling a family friend who worked at Crocs, McKenzie was able to source a pair of size 17 shoes for the young man. “When we gave the shoes to him he was just…giddy.” Said McKenzie. “I kept hugging him, and he kept hugging me, and he said ‘Wow, you really care!’. He seemed surprised that someone would go to that much effort to track down shoes for him.”
Since then, Big Hearts Big Soles have been able to help other homeless people in the Boulder area, with the help of big hearted — and big footed — NBA teams, the Detroit Pistons, the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets, who have donated sneakers.
One pair of donated sneakers went to a 15-year old boy living at Attention Homes in Boulder, where Scharfenberg works. The boy lives at the shelter full-time, while his father lives apart at an adult shelter elsewhere in the city. McKenzie said of the moment they gave the boy his brand new shoes, “He was so amazed to get shoes from an NBA team. Kerri and I were standing outside in a snowstorm while he picked up his shoes from the trunk of my car. When I asked if he was cold, he said, ‘I’m warm! I’m too happy right now to be cold!’”
Encouraged by the reaction from the NBA teams they have reached out to, and following a successful crowd funding campaign that allowed them to buy the stock from a close out sale at Footlocker, the charity have started distributing new shoes to local youth sports teams in disadvantaged areas. The response has been overwhelming. McKenzie said, “The need is so great I’m scared. Our stash of shoes is getting low, so I am in panic mode trying to get all these people shoes. Worst case scenario, I buy the shoes with donation money to fill the gaps. I will get all these kids quality shoes they can be proud of one way or another.”
The charity needs not only quality new sneakers for girls and boys in all sizes to meet the demand from schools and sports clubs, but also new or very gently worn dress shoes suitable for job interviews, and boots. For the homeless, the main need is for boots suitable for the freezing Colorado winters. So far, they have been unable to source a single pair, new or used, of boots over size 13.
Eventually McKenzie and Sharfenberg would like to help with shoes for those in need in other cities, such as New York, Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland. To do this they need money. McKenzie explained, “Kerry and I are doing this for no pay, and I store the shoes in closets all over my home, so we don’t have rent, but we sometimes need to buy shoes if we can’t track down donations. We also send shoes, so we need money for postage.”
Homelessness is such a widespread problem that the level of need can feel overwhelming. But getting shoes to the people who need them is just a start to getting them back, quite literally, onto their feet. For someone without a home who also has big feet, it can surely seem as if the odds are against them, and receiving a pair of shoes that fit can be life-changing. As McKenzie put it, “I know a pair of shoes isn’t going to get them a job, it isn’t even going to feed them dinner, but it’s a good start.”
So what do you say girls? Can you help with new or gently worn shoes, or even just with a few dollars?
To donate, send shoes to Big Hearts Big Soles Inc., 811 Orman Drive, Boulder, CO 80303 USA, or go to www.bigheartsbigsolesinc.com to donate via PayPal.