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Putting Their Best Foot Forward

Williston Park-based SFA provides recycled footwear for the needy and less fortunate

According to Shoes For All (SFA), more than 300 million pairs of shoes go into landfills annually and there are at least five pairs of unused shoes per person languishing in closets. This kind of excess, coupled with a crippling economy and exchanges with patients, spurred podiatrist Dr. Mary Carlson to start her first shoe drive at a Williston Park street fair two years ago.

“Many of my patients come in and tell me that their shoes hurt their feet. What happens is that the foot is often deformed and it’s not the shoe that’s causing the problem,” Dr. Carlson explained. “So with the economic crisis, I thought about how all these shoes are in a closet and that I should try to get them into the hands of people in need, especially on Long Island, because it has been hit especially hard by the bad economy.”

Ever since 2010, what started out as a modest desire to help out the less fortunate with gently used footwear has snowballed into over 10,000 pairs of shoes going to the needy. Among the organizations that have benefited from SFA’s largesse are Dress For Success, Harvest of the World, Saint Aidan’s parish, AIDS Center of Queens (ACQC) and the Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN). The response has been so overwhelmingly positive that the non-profit organization quickly outgrew the confines of Dr. Carlson’s practice. As a result, the Williston Park Capital One branch on the corner of IU Willets Road and Willis Avenue donated an office for SFA to operate out of. On Tuesday, September 25 a ribbon-cutting was held with the entire SFA board of directors in attendance along with numerous supporters including Sen. Jack Martins.

And while the simple act of donating a pair of gently-used shoes may seem inconsequential given how much people take for granted owning footwear, the ripple effects something like this does goes surprisingly far according to Dr. Carlson.

“[Donating shoes] helps people if they’re interviewing for a job, going back to work, kids going to school or participating in sports activities. We accept cleats, children’s shoes, wedding dress shoes, men’s dress shoes, casual shoes, boots. Everybody has a need,” she said. “Freeport Athletics will take our cleats. That’s another area that’s in need. If you get the kids the cleats, you keep them out of trouble. They have sports and you’d rather have them doing that than something else.”

Now that SFA has digs to call their own, the next goal is the creation of SFA Kids, a program aimed at getting students and the younger generation involved with doing something that’s socially conscious. Given how many high schools have community service requirements and both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are always in search of projects to do to ascend to Gold Award and Eagle Scout status makes what SFA does a natural fit.

“What we want to do is have kids become members or sponsors for a small fee. We’ll get them to wear a small shoelace bracelet with the logo on it and what we’d like for them to do is some kind of volunteer work whether it’s sorting shoes, distributing and also get them to be involved with helping somebody else,” Dr. Carlson explained. “To learn how to show empathy, you’ve got to pay it forward, [particularly] in their own communities.”

For more information on Shoes For All (SFA), please call 516-248-8188 or visit www.shoesforall-sfa.com