It began with a conundrum.
In 1997, Don & Leslie Nottberg opened Elite Feet, an Overland Park, Kansas retail store, with a mission:
|"Provide each customer the best fitting, most comfortable shoe for his or her foot.”|
People sought out the Nottbergs for help replacing running or walking shoes that didn’t fit properly or weren’t suited for a grueling workout. While the shoes might not be right for the Nottbergs’ customer, they were right for someone else – especially someone who couldn’t afford decent footwear.
from the trash - the garage - the back of a dark closet?
How would they find their way to feet that needed them?
Reuse – Repurpose - Recycle
In late 1998, Don & Leslie placed a large tub in the front of their store. They asked customers to donate a pair of old shoes after buying a new one. Some customers went home and came back with loafers, sandals, dress shoes, work boots and children’s sports shoes - snow boots, too - 600 pairs altogether. The Nottbergs delivered the shoes to a local organization that served people who were homeless or lived in poverty - just in time for the winter holidays.
For 14 years, word of mouth brought in more shoes - and more requests for shoes.
- In Years 2 & 3, Don & Leslie partnered with Soles4Souls, an international organization experienced in distributing shoes to survivors of natural disasters and victims of poverty.
- By Year 4, City Union Mission and the local division of The Salvation Army had caught wind of the collection and were asking to distribute shoes locally.
- Demand for gently used shoes – especially children’s shoes – grew, then skyrocketed with the onset of a recession in 2008.
- Financial crisis brought staggering job losses, stubborn unemployment, personal bankruptcy and homelessness to many in the Kansas City metro. By 2010, five different area charities were requesting ever-larger donations.
The recession continued – and the Joplin tornado roared through. Shoe Kansas City grew to meet the ever-increasing need; in fact, it became the largest shoe collection/donation effort in the Kansas City metro area. In 2011, with the help of Saucony and Hawthorne Plaza Shopping Center, as well as new partners McCarthy Auto Group, the Shawnee Mission School District and NEA-Shawnee Mission, Shoe Kansas City collected more than 13,000 pairs of new & used shoes.
During the 13 years since that first tub appeared in the front of the store, annual contributions had multiplied more than 20 fold – nearly 27% per year! Shoe Kansas City had become much more than a little holiday shoe drive.
A View to the Future
The local need for shoes seemed to grow as quickly as the collection. Don & Leslie knew they needed a more formal, carefully structured organization to meet it.
First they decided to simplify and strengthen distribution. Shoe Kansas City currently works closely with two local charities: City Union Mission & Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. These well-established nonprofits have the experience, skill and resources to quickly deliver thousands of shoes all across the KC metro – which is critical during the busy but brief winter holiday season.
In 2012, Don & Leslie decided to incorporate Shoe Kansas City as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. While the Nottbergs remain at the helm, Shoe Kansas City is taking on a life of its own, guided by a board of independent directors. The new structure builds a bridge to many potential partners and supporters, particularly foundations that are permitted to fund only 501(c)(3) organizations.