Barefoot march raises awareness for worldwide poverty

By Maggie Bridgforth
UNC Co-Editor
the Durham Voice

On most Saturday mornings at 501 Foster St., the home of the Durham Farmers’ Market, one can usually find tables bursting with the latest colors of the season: heirloom tomatoes, sweet onions, blueberries and wildflowers. But on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 5, instead of local vegetables and fresh fruits, piles of shoes lined the sidewalk and barefooted people of every age flooded the market.

Though it isn’t quite barefoot weather yet, more than 350 people shed their shoes and walked a mile through downtown Durham.

Teenagers from the Durham YMCA worked from October until early April to plan the one-mile walk supporting the mission of Toms Shoes. Over 350 people gathered to walk barefooted through downtown Durham to raise awareness for children living in poverty across the world. (Staff photo by Maggie Bridgforth)

The one-mile walk was part of the TOMS shoes nationwide event “One Day Without Shoes,” which raises awareness for the millions of children in developing nations who go without shoes every day. For every pair of shoes TOMS Shoes sells, the company donates a pair to a child in a developing country.

Local high school and middle school students in the Durham YMCA Leaders Club helped organized the local walk, where students made up a considerable number of the participants.

“This allows students to be a part of something that helps kids locally and worldwide,” said Latisha Taylor, a junior at Kestrel Heights School. “We forget how fortunate we are. Even if bad things happen here, we are still very fortunate.”

After hearing the founder of TOMS Shoes, Blake Mycoskie, speak last fall at a conference in Chicago, members of the Durham YMCA became passionate about the cause. They decided to partner with TOMS Shoes to raise awareness about the lack of shoes for children around the world, according to Mike Spears, the youth director of middle school and teen programs at the Durham YMCA.

The students immediately caught the vision of TOMS Shoes and began to organize the event. They were the driving force behind the operation and worked hard, with the help of the directors at the YMCA, from October until April to plan and promote the one-mile walk.

“Organizing this event helped promote self-esteem for these kids,” said Sandra Warton, the mother of a participating student. “It taught them to be confident in their abilities and also reminded them that they can accomplish anything they put their mind to.”

YMCAs throughout the Triangle united to collect new or gently used shoes for the cause. The association collected over 20,000 pairs of shoes, and the Durham YMCA collected approximately 875 pairs of shoes. A school bus made the rounds of local YMCAs to pick up donated shoes, but more than one bus was needed to collect all the donated shoes.

The YMCA partnered with Share Our Shoes, a shoe charity dedicated to helping individuals in need of shoes, to expand the impact of the shoe drive. The donated shoes will go to children living in poverty-stricken Ethiopia, Peru and other targeted nations.

Spears worked closely with the students to help plan and publicize the event. Allowing the teens to organize events like this helps build self-confidence and character, while also shattering prevalent negative stereotypes of teens, he said.

“We want them to think bigger than themselves and, more than that, think globally,” Spears said. “People think we’re just a swim and gym, but we’re more than that. We do a lot of outreach in the community.”

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