Ron White was walking along Yonge Street when he noticed a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk with his toes sticking out of his shoes.
“It’s crazy,” the high-end shoe designer said. “You buy new shoes and leave the old ones behind, and sometimes they are still in good shape.”
White then decided to ask his clients to bring in shoes to donate to organizations dealing with those less fortunate, with the initiative eventually evolving to celebrities such as Hilary Duff and Paul Anka donating their footwear to help boost the collection to more than 30,000 pairs to date.
“It’s now the largest shoe drive in the country,” said White at the launch of his 17th annual shoe drive inside his Yorkdale Shopping Centre store Thursday, Jan. 3.
The launch included a display of shoes signed and donated by celebrities, from the likes of Matt Damon, Celine Dion and Kevin Spacey, that help raise awareness of the cause. Celebrities who donated this year include Rachel McAdams, David Spade, Sarah McLachlan and Laureen Harper.
The public can drop off gently worn men’s, women’s and children’s shoes at any Ron White shoe store until Sunday, Feb. 10. The shoes will then be cleaned and donated to shelters and organizations in need.
This year’s charity partners include North York-based New Circles and Ve’ahavta, along with Dress for Success, Streethealth and Halton Women’s Place. As a thank you, donors will receive a $25 credit towards a future purchase at Ron White Shoes.
“This is our second year participating in the shoe drive,” said Robyn Segall, manager of marketing and PR and interim general manager of Ve’ahavta.
“The shoes donated will be distributed to the men and women living on the streets of Toronto. In the harsh winter months in Toronto frostbite is a serious issue and can result in infection or in the most serious cases can even be fatal. Having warm dry socks and shoes can make a significant difference for those who need it most. We are grateful to be one of the participating charities in this shoe drive.”
Winter footwear is especially needed, White said, adding the goal is to collect thousands of shoes by the drive’s end.
Civic leader John Tory said he was more than happy to donate a pair of his shoes to such an important cause.
“I’ve known Ron a long time and he does so much in the community,” he said. “People take something like shoes for granted and assume everyone has some. It’s giving a small hand up to people who are struggling.”
Jane Craig, executive director of New Circles, said her organization gives away 10,000 pairs of shoes annually so any donation helps.
“The need is always great and growing, particularly for men and children’s shoes,” she said. “Thirty-four per cent of our clients are children.”
With a catchment area of Flemingdon Park, Thorncliffe Park and Victoria Village, New Circles sees about 100 new clients a month, Craig said.
For information visit www.ronwhitefoundation.com