I approached a local shoe retailer for a donation of surplus shoes, and the manager furnished the name and number of the owner located in Montreal. After reaching him by phone, he appeared receptive to a donation of surplus shoes sometime in the future. Two weeks later, a truck showed up at my place of work with 213 pairs of brand new children’s and adult shoes. There was no fanfare, photo-op, and tax-receipt needed, just the understanding that there were people in need of shoes.
My mother used to tell my sister and me about growing up in poverty in Toronto in the 1930s. Every year the City authorities would give my mother and her two sisters a pair of gently used shoes to wear. On the surface, this act of charity seemed like a win, but my mother remembered it differently. Why? Because there was a number indelibly etched on the sole of each shoe. My mother recalled how she shuffled her feet in public so that no one could see the number on the soles of those donated shoes that branded her as poor.
The 213 pairs of new shoes I received for distribution to those in need had no distinguishing numbers to stigmatize the kids and adults receiving them. Instead, there was the knowledge that someone cared enough to think about people they did not know—people who shared the same need as everyone for love, home, kinship and dignity.
Like the seams binding our shoes, these are the threads that bind us together as one family in one world.
David Cooper is the Founding Director of Eli’s Place, and co-author of Bridge over the River Why, a guide for parents who have lost children to suicide.
Eli’s Place was created to meet the critical need for residential treatment and recovery programs for young adults with serious mental illness. Based on the effectiveness of the Gould Farm Model, the role of community support will play an integral role in supporting individuals living with mental illness in developing a sense of purpose and achieving stability.