For more than 25 years the team at Ron White Shoes has collected gently worn footwear for men, women and children through its annual Shoe Drive in the Greater Toronto Area.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the charity drive which had a brief pandemic hiatus.
“We collect close to 2,000 pairs each year for community agencies across the GTA. We ask people to look into their closets and find those ‘gently used’ shoes and boots that still have life left in them and bring them to us,” said CEO and Creative Director Ron White. “With the ongoing war in Ukraine, we have also partnered with the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada and have set a goal of collecting over 2,500 pairs in this anniversary year.”
Long-standing partners also include the CAMH Foundation’s (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) Suits Me Fine program and the New Circles GLOW clothing program.
Since the Shoe Drive’s inception, the team at Ron White Shoes has cleaned, sorted and distributed over 50,000 pairs to date.
The initiative began with Ron White’s first retail location on Yonge St in Toronto, when celebrities and notable Canadians began donating their shoes to help bring awareness to Canada’s largest Shoe Drive.
“In 1994, I was an early 20 something kid. We were up and rolling and we were in business. I was feeling really grateful for the community because the community was what supported me and became customers in that area at Yonge and Eglington. I grew up in Winnipeg. My dad’s a retired high school teacher. So we didn’t have a lot growing up. It was a very middle class upbringing. I was a kid who lived with hand me downs but my parents always did charity work and it was just normal. They always volunteered. They always worked with hospitals and fundraising and they always did something,” said White.
“So when I got the business up and running and could catch my breath after the first year, I remember in 1994 thinking well what am I going to do. I’ve got to do some charity work along the way. So I thought how do I give back to the community because the community is why I’m in business.
“One day I was literally walking up Yonge Street, very close to Eglington, and it had started to snow. And what do you do when you’re in the shoe business. You look at people’s feet whenever you see them. You say hello, you look them in the face, and then you look down at their feet. I see a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk leaning up against the side of a building and as I walk by of course I glance down at his footwear and his sneakers he had were torn and his toe was sticking out of the sneaker. It clearly was not the right size for him because his toe was really hanging out almost on the sidewalk. It had literally just started to snow and when I glanced over it was almost like a moment. It gives me the shivers talking about it right now. When I looked over, a snowflake landed on the tip of his toe. I almost heard it. I almost heard the ding. It was like oh my God. This guy and other homeless around the city desperately need good footwear or they’re going to get frostbite, they’re going to lose their toes.”
White said that in the shoe business there’s always leftover shoes. He used to put those shoes in the basement for storage and they piled up from people who had discarded the shoes. He didn’t want to throw them out because they were in good condition. This was an epiphany for him. He had the shoes in his basement, he also had leftovers after every season as all stores do.
The idea was to combine that and start donating them to homeless shelters.
That’s how it started. Celebrities Dini Petty and Jeanne Beker were among the first to donate shoes to the cause. A tag line was developed: “Follow in the footsteps of your favourite celebrity and donate your shoes to the homeless.”
“That’s how it first started and honestly it just took fire,” said White.
“Among my first donors was Canada’s fashion femme herself Jeanne Beker, and since then we’ve had incredible support from international celebrities as well as Canada’s most recognizable faces. I am asking people to kick off the New Year on the right foot by helping us to make this our most generous year yet. We are accepting donations at all of our GTA locations, and encourage those outside of that to mail their gently worn shoes and boots directly to our warehouse. We will make sure they get to those who need them the most.”
Donations, including pairs from Celine Dion, Matt Damon, Catherine O’Hara, Rachel McAdams, Vanessa Williams, Hilary Duff and Jeremy Irons are showcased to encourage donors to “follow in the footsteps of their favourite celebrity”. As a “thank you”, donors receive a $50 gift card to be used at any Ron White Shoes location.
Retail locations accepting in-person donations:
- Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor St W, Toronto
- Bayview Village Shopping Centre, 2901 Bayview Ave, North York
- Downtown Oakville, 189 Lakeshore Rd E, Oakville
- Leaside, 1553 Bayview Ave, East York
Mail-in donations can be directed to: Ron White Shoes Warehouse, 1020 Lawrence Ave W, Suite 201, North York, ON M6A 1C8
Ron White Shoes opened its first store in 1993 on Yonge and Eglington in Toronto. Today, it operates four physical retail locations and an online store. Ron White has his own collection which was started in 2006 for men and women and three years ago launched hand bags. His collection is sold in about 80 stores across North America.
Ron White was named Independent Retailer of the Year by Footwear News in 2011 (a Canadian first) and was inducted into the Sheridan College of Business Hall of Fame in 2007.