Written by Christopher Gavin Friday, 07 June 2013 00:00
Dr. Mary Carlson is a foot and ankle specialist, but she gives more than just medical assistance. Her charity, Shoes For All, has provided struggling communities with sandals, sneakers, high heels, boots and more for almost three years, according to Carlson, its president and founder, and that’s only half of it.
The 501(3)(c) organization was started in September 2010 and since then has donated about 13,000 pairs of shoes to people on Long Island, according to the nonprofit’s website. Carlson’s job played an important role in the beginning, she said.
“Sitting in my office and practice I hear everybody complaining about ‘I wore this shoe and now my foot hurts,’” said Carlson, who has been a podiatrist for 20 years. “It’s not the shoe that caused the problem for the client, it’s the foot type.”
With that in mind, Carlson decided to ask her patients for the shoes they no longer wore because they were uncomfortable, she said. Carlson then took out an advertisement and set up a donation booth at the annual Williston Park Street Fair. She was overwhelmed with the support and the amount of shoes she received, she said.
“I was shocked that people actually came to the street fair with shopping bags full of shoes,” Carlson said.
Shoes For All has worked with numerous local charities, including the Saint Aidan Parish, Lutheran Social Services, The INN and a Veteran’s Stand Down event last summer where homeless veterans could receive food, clothes and legal advice, according to Carlson.
She said the office is located in the Capital One building on the corner of I.U. Willets Road and Willis Avenue, which Capital One gave to her for free.
Recently, the charity has extended its reach beyond shoes. For the last two months, Shoes For All has been part of an internship program with the special education department at The Wheatley School, which provides jobs to students in the Life Skills class.
The four students were interviewed by Carlson, went through a job application process and had to wear clothes suitable for the workplace, she said. Now each intern has a specific job that he or she is capable of doing, Carlson said, which mainly includes cleaning, sorting and getting the shoes ready for each order along with taking phone messages and filling out spreadsheets on computers.
Liza Laurino, a special education teacher at The Wheatley School, said the program started when an assistant who works in the East Williston School District had a connection to Carlson, who met with Laurino and offered the internship opportunity.
“I think it’s a fabulous program and it’s really wonderful that we help these kids into adulthood by helping them achieve goals and find what their interests are to help them prepare for vocation,” Laurino said.
The East Williston School District collects shoes for the charity by having donation boxes in each of its three schools, which the interns collect every week. The students work at Carlson’s office on Thursdays, which they very much enjoy, Laurino said.
“They really enjoy all the different jobs they’re learning and they feel ‘really cool’—that’s what they tell me—because they work in an office,” Laurino said. “So it makes them not only learn, but it makes them really feel good.”
Carlson appreciates the extra help. She also appreciates the funding support from local businesses such as 2000 Computer Solutions and In Full Bloom, a florist in Farmingdale, among others.
On June 8, Shoes For All will be a part of Convoy of Hope, an outreach event in Uniondale, which will help give away 10,000 pairs of new shoes. Cheryl Salem, a receptionist at Carlson’s office who has been working with the charity, said. Shoes For All will be donating around 3,000 pairs, according to Carlson. Salem said she picked up the extra work last September, and is delighted in the role, saying, “You can’t get better than [helping someone] who is trying to help somebody [else] out.”
Where will Shoes For All be walking next? Carlson said she hopes to expand the charity nationally as well as implementing the internship program in other local schools like in Plainview and Mineola.
“We forget about our own and that was the key on this whole thing,” she said. “We wanted to help our local community; our own people.”