Monday, December 11, 2023

Helping the shoeless: Local nonprofit expands outreach during the coronavirus

Bill Hoffman holds holiday bags next to a shopping cart filled with shoe donations (WYDaily file/ Courtesy of Bill Hoffman)
Bill Hoffman holds holiday bags next to a shopping cart filled with shoe donations (WYDaily file/ Courtesy of Bill Hoffman)

The coronavirus pandemic has made it harder for many nonprofits to provide services to residents on the Peninsula, including children in desperate need of new shoes.

“The biggest challenge has been how indefinite everything is,” said Bill Hoffman, co-founder of the nonprofit ShoeLady. “The uncertainty all along have been difficult.”

“Another thing that’s happened is some of the service organizations that support us, they have not been able to have their fundraising calendar like they wanted to…people aren’t unwilling to give it’s just that the normal fundraising process has been disrupted by COVID.”

Hoffman, co-founded the nonprofit with his wife, Melissa Hoffman ––the original ShoeLady –– in 2013, after she saw a boy walking around barefoot in the rain holding a pair of women’s shoes. When she found out the boy’s parents could not afford new shoes, she gave him a new pair of shoes then called two schools to see if other children needed new shoes, too, according to the ShoeLady’s website.

She received 85 requests.

After Melissa died from a stroke in 2016, Bill decided to keep the nonprofit going with his family and a few volunteers.

RELATED STORY: This nonprofit needs new shoes for children. Here’s how you can help

As part of the nonprofit’s annual Holiday Shoe Drive, ShoeLady buys new shoes for children, collects shoe orders from local school divisions with the kids’ shoe sizes and preferences, and keeps the children anonymous when asking donors to pledge or buy new shoes.

But this year, things are different.

Because of the coronavirus, students are not attending school in-person full-time with some school divisions opting for blended learning days or solely offering virtual classes.

While some schools feel confident they know which students need shoes, others are not so sure and have decided to hold off on shoe orders. Instead of collecting new shoes or pledges for children once a year, they suggested Hoffman expand the shoe drive collection for the remainder of the school year.

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“Everybody kind of agreed going to a year round program, meaning school year program is a better way to do that,” Hoffman said, adding they will ask donors to contribute around the holidays and throughout the year. “We’re going to see how this works over the rest of the school year but I’m more than halfway confident this will be permanent.”

He said he feels the change will give kids a new pair of shoes at the beginning of the school year and address “the needs of kids’ feet always growing.”

Plus, he won’t have to store 800 pairs of shoes in his living room all at once.

“It’s not that it’s a burden, I don’t mean that at all,” he said, referring to storing the shoes in his living room. “If we spread it out over time, I get to engage volunteers more…and we can engage more people.”

ShoeLady delivered 877 shoes to 26 area schools by the end of 2019. The nonprofit sorted through 827 shoes in just one weekend.

“You should have seen my house, living room, dining room, office, bedroom and the family room in the back, I had them all lined with lightweight plastic shelves,” Hoffman said. “It was same thing only worse and I didn’t even have time to take a video.”

Another change this year is renting a storage space for the shoes instead of storing them in Hoffman’s living room. He has not found a space yet — he said it must be climate controlled to avoid the shoes being exposed to the cold and the humidity.

“I’ve got about 20 pairs but it’s early, the needs are starting to come in,” he said.

When asked if the nonprofit was hurting for shoe pledges or donations, Hoffman was not sure.

“I can’t tell yet because in the past, by this time, I’ve been able to project what the demand could be,” he said, referring to the coronavirus and the holiday season. “It’s very difficult to forecast whether we’ve got enough money on hand to meet the demand…I just don’t know.”

The nonprofit does not have paid staff — it relies on volunteers and most of the costs go to buying shoes with a “small overhead” of managing the website and eventually, paying for a storage unit.

But if he does have a surplus of extra donations he will use it for next year’s shoe drive. Hoffman hasn’t set a date yet but think it will probably be around Jan. 29 with a delivery date to the schools in mid-February.

Here’s how you can help

During the week of Dec. 18, Hoffman will deliver the shoes to the schools for ShoeLady’s 2020 Holiday Shoe Drive.

The deadline for schools to send shoe orders is Nov. 30 and the deadline for donors to pledge or donate new shoes is Dec. 11. You can donate shoes here.

Besides donating money through the nonprofit’s Facebook page, Hoffman said people can host shoe drives throughout the year, too.

“So an individual or an organization could throw a shoe party,” he said. “Everything has got to be new shoes, not used shoes.”


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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