Baldwin Bone & Joint’s Many More Miles Campaign is unofficially based on an old saying: “If the shoe fits, wear it.” But the Eastern Shore charity adds — “If you need shoes, take them.”
Now in year 18, the philanthropical campaign aims to provide shoes that have miles of wear left in them to folks who need them.
Last year, 2022, was a record year for the program.
“We collected about 2,700 shoes,” says Genna Van Varden, outreach coordinator for CityHope Church in Daphne. “The key is getting the word out early.”
That word is spread annually to Baldwin County schools through guidance counselors and volunteers, starting in January. “We get the information out to school counselors, students, and others,” adds MMM’s communications coordinator Jamie Ganey of Fairhope. “They in turn relay the information to students to mobilize. Get out and bring in the shoes.”
Fairhope East Elementary School often leads the pack in shoe collections. But it is more than competition. “We teach our students about empathy and putting ourselves in ‘another person’s shoes,’” says Beth Ann Mills, the school’s counselor. “So, speaking about how their choices to donate shoes to others puts empathy into action.”
She adds, “This program allows students to provide for other families. It is rewarding to see such empathy in our students and to see families blessed by these donations.” Fairhope East Elementary collected 272 pairs of shoes for the 2022 shoe drive.
Gently used shoes are collected from people who no longer need what used to grace their feet. Loafers, sneakers, sandals and more are sorted, organized and placed in distribution points throughout Baldwin and Mobile counties. Then dates are announced for shoe shopping. Other centers distribute shoes on a “come when you can and take what you need” mode.
“When we first started, 18 years ago, I forgot to ask donors to tie their shoes together,” recalls the event’s creator–in–chief, Fairhope’s Pam Denham. “We had unmatched shoes all over the place.”
The footwear for the needy idea started about two decades ago when Denham lived in Tampa, Florida. “I recall a podiatrist was doing something similar to what we are doing today,” she says. “I also remember seeing in Tampa a huge storeroom, with shoes stacked as high as you could see.” She felt these shoes could have served a second life.
After moving here, Denham approached Baldwin Bone and Joint in Daphne, which has partnered with the event since day one. “They are an important part of MMM,” she notes about the physicians and staff. “They provide the cash prizes to schools who supply the most shoes. Baldwin Bone and Joint’s employees and patients are also huge suppliers and supporters of what we do. They also set up receiving and distribution points onsite.”
William Wiggins, CMPE, and director of operations at Baldwin Bone and Joint, adds, “This is part of our community outreach and involvement program. We are glad to be part of this effort since its beginning.”
Other partners for the 2022 campaign included Dr. Glenn Glass, the University of South Alabama Student Recreation Center and McCoy Outdoors.
MMM has received almost every type of fashion befitting a foot, from slippers to work boots. “Last year someone donated a pair of Nikes valued at $800 on eBay,” recalls Van Varden. “Whoever received those sneakers got a really good deal and probably doesn’t realize how much so.”
“We also receive new, never worn shoes, as donations,” Denham says. “One man told me, ‘If I am going to give somebody something, I want it to be the very best.’”
More than 90% of shoe donations are through Baldwin County Schools. “It’s amazing what something as simple as a pair of shoes can do for someone,” says Eddie Tyler, superintendent of the Baldwin County Public Schools. “Things that many of us take for granted can mean the world to someone else. For a child, it may mean they can walk the halls of their school with pride. For adults, it may be a means to help them provide for their family. Shoes are instrumental for everyday life, and we could not think of a better cause to be involved in.”
Anyone in need is welcomed to shop. Denham recalls a Nigerian runner in the Mobile Azalea Trail Run who took several pair of shoes home to relatives and friends who live in abject poverty.
Some recipients are initially timid seeking free shoes from charitable donors. Van Varden notes, “Some are shy about coming out. We try to take down those walls and emphasize that this is a free event. We make it non-threatening.”
Emmett Burnett is a Satsuma-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.
This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Business Alabama.