As the school year kicks off, Footwear4kids returns as a part of Caldwell Family Centre’s backpack initiative
This is the story of how a routine declutter ended up helping thousands of families across Ottawa.
In August 2020, 20-year-old William Bourgault was cleaning out his closet and ended up amassing a pile of nearly new and gently worn running shoes. That the Orleans resident would donate them was a given. “I did take a look at donating them to the generic donation centre,” says Bourgault. “But many of those donation centres end up selling the donations received at a low price and I wanted to provide a resource that was barrier-free for low-income youth and their families in our city.”
Unable to find an organization that focused on providing footwear at no cost, he decided to start his own. Footwear4kids — a charitable project and social movement that encourages and assists members of the community, shoe stores, and corporate businesses to donate shoes to children, youth, and their families in need — was born.
Bourgault made a Facebook post, inviting his neighbours to join him in donating gently worn running shoes and boots.
“I would arrive home after my 12-hour shifts, open my Facebook, and have over 50 message requests from people that were wanting to donate footwear,” says Bourgault, the organization’s founder and manager. “I also started receiving many messages per day from families in need of footwear.”
He stayed up late answering emails, but in the morning, he’d wake to another 50 messages. “At that point, that I knew that I needed help with the initiative, so I gathered volunteers through networking and social media.”
By the end of the first month, he had bags full of donated shoes that he had picked up, sorted, and stored in his family’s basement. It wasn’t long before the collection of shoes had outgrown the space. “Our family home wasn’t suited for the large amount of volunteer movement that was happening at our house,” says Bourgault. “I knew we needed to find something more appropriate.”
He reached out to Marilyn Matheson, the executive director of the Caldwell Family Centre, and asked if they would provide a storage space for the initiative at the centre. By September of 2020, the Footwear4kids had moved into the centre.
Two years later, Footwear4kids has distributed more than 2,500 pairs of shoes. The organization works in partnership with the Caldwell Family Centre’s clothing program and closely with the Catholic Centre for Immigrants and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa to distribute the footwear to low-income children and youth in need. The organization also accepts referrals for assistance from other non-profit organizations, which they fulfill with the help of volunteers.
“Footwear4kids has given me the opportunity to volunteer, and be more engaged within the City of Ottawa and its communities,” says Anass Belgaoudi, one of the program’s first volunteers.
“We had the volunteer team to operate the initiative, but lacked the infrastructure,” says Bourgault, now 22. “Footwear4kids wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for the support of the Caldwell Family Centre along the way.”
Although its main priority is assisting families in Ottawa, Footwear4kids recently partnered with the Agnes Zabali Boys and Girls Club to provide shoes to youth in Uganda.
While Footwear4kids has received funding from the MapleWishes Foundation — which helped cover expenses such as for fuel for donation pickups and deliveries — the organization is currently working on getting registered charitable status.
Many people don’t think of Ottawans as being among those in need, but that need does exist. “The pandemic has affected many individuals, and this initiative has [provided] relief for many families during this challenging time,” Bourgault says. “Many community health centres and community organizations are very overwhelmed and now have a larger caseload of families in need. If we can support and assist our local community organizations, more families will be assisted faster with basic items such as footwear and clothing.”
How Footwear4kids works
Footwear4kids accepts donations of slightly used running shoes and winter boots of all sizes (kids and adults). Email the organization to arrange a porch pickup.
Agencies that assist youth and their families may reach out to Footwear4kids via email and fill out the referral form. Shoes and clothing from both programs are packaged and delivered to the families in need at no cost.
Get in touch
Back to school… with proper footwear
Every year, the Caldwell Family Centre gives hundreds of backpacks with school supplies to kids attending kindergarten to Grade 8. This September marks the second year that Footwear4kids will be including shoes with the backpacks. “We believe that every child deserves a good pair of shoes, says Bourgault. “Having a good pair of shoes for many kids gives them a sense of hope and belonging and can also increase their sense of self-confidence and inclusion.”