How to Start a Shoe Charity like Laces of Love

  1. Decide who will receive the shoes you gather, and who will determine who should receive shoes Laces of Love decided early on to serve kids from 1 – 18.  We do not serve adults. That is stated in our incorporation papers.Also, WE do not select which children will receive shoes.  Rather we rely on school counselors, school nurses, teachers, coaches, and personnel from not for profit organizations that serve disadvantaged kids to determine who is in need.  Those people know the kids and their families’ situations. We do not. We look closely every year at the school districts’ data about the number of kids receiving free lunches.  That gives us a good idea of the overall need, even though every child on free lunch does not need shoes. We have learned that need is everywhere.  Several years ago a high school band from a well-to-do high school held a shoe drive for Laces of Love. We got a call from a mom of one of the band students who explained that she simply couldn’t provide a pair of new shoes for the drive – her own daughter was squeezing into last year’s shoes.  (We got a new pair of shoes for the daughter plus a pair for her to contribute to the shoe drive).Shoes are given in the privacy of the school/non-profit offices. Shoes are taken out of the shoe boxes (it’s easier to store more shoes on the “shoe closet” shelf without the boxes) and tagged with a Laces of Love tag.  The tags are so that the children can show their parents where the shoes came from. It’s up to the child to tell his or her friends that the new shoes are from Laces of Love. We deliver between 25 and 100 pairs of shoes of various, appropriate sizes to every school in Collier and Lee Counties, Florida, a few days before the first day of school. Once these shoes (or a particular size) have been given out, the point person at the school (counselor, school nurse, etc.) will contact us with requests for individual kids they have identified as needing shoes. When we deliver shoes to a school or non-profit, we have a school recipient (this could be the school secretary) sign a sheet noting how many shoes were delivered. We later tally these “distribution sheets” to tell how many shoes we have distributed to a particular school, organization, school district, or county.
  2. Decide what kind(s) of shoes you will collect and give.We decided to focus on sneakers, since kids need sneakers to participate in PE and to run and play the way kids should.  We accept “party” shoes with thanks and are happy to give them to kids who would never have such dressy shoes – but the kids need sneakers first.AND – if you decide to collect “gently used shoes,” be prepared to receive a number of totally worn out shoes. Laces of Love gives only new shoes – to avoid the various definitions of “gently used” and because many economically disadvantaged children have never had a pair of new shoes.We are aware of styles and colors that are more popular and try to select shoes the child will like and be proud to wear, but we do not let the child request a specific brand or color. Only rarely are we able to let the child select from two pairs of shoes – most of the time the child gets the shoes that were selected for him/her based on gender, age, and size.
  3. Find a name.Test ideas on Google Search and with your state’s and the IRS’ lists of non-profits and corporations to be sure the name you are considering is available.Note: you may not use the name Laces of Love. It is Service Marked, which means no one can use the name Laces of Love without our permission.
  4. Volunteers.Laces of Love is 100% volunteer. We have a small board of directors and a limited number of volunteers whom we entrust to deliver shoes.  Shoe delivery volunteers must, of course, have valid drivers’ licenses and auto insurance and be willing to drive their own cars over a large geographic area.  Every Laces volunteer who delivers is known to us personally since we trust them with thousands of dollars worth of shoes for a large delivery.
  5. How to gather shoes.The easiest way to start is to have Shoe Parties (see How to Have a Shoe Party).  Encourage friends to bring a pair of shoes to a party in lieu of a hostess gift – and to have shoe parties of their own.Be prepared: People love the cute, little kid shoes and think kids have small feet. It may take some work to educate folk that kids’ feet are large these days.
  6. Thank everyone who gives you anything.
  7. Dealing with donations.If you are going to accept monetary donations, you should explore incorporating and applying for 501-c-3 status with the IRS.  Find an attorney (pro-bono, of course) to help with the incorporation process and a CPA (ditto) to help with the 501-c-3 application.   Once you have received your 501-c-3 designation you will need to file a Form 990 (or 990 EZ) with the IRS each year. You can request an extension every year for the filing date – thus allowing your CPA to complete the 990 after “tax season” when he/she has more time.
  8. If you are buying shoes, look for SALES!Laces of Love board members who serve as buyers are THE best at finding terrific shoe sales.  We have a small business VISA card, which is used for most purchases. Buyers send the treasurer their receipts, and she matches them to the VISA bill each month.  In the beginning, buyers used their own charge cards and were reimbursed when they turned in their receipts. No receipt – no reimbursement.
  9. Photos of kids?  – important!Everyone wants to see photos of kids with their new shoes.  BUT, you cannot publish a photo of a child under 18 (even on Facebook) without written permission from a parent or guardian!
  10. Start small.The first year of Laces of Love, we gave out 23 pairs of shoes.  The second year we outfitted 65 needy kids at very “at risk” schools with new sneakers.  By 2015, our tenth year, 9,912 kids in need in Collier and Lee Counties received shoes (where 65% and 70% of the public school kids receive free lunches);  and in 2017, over 17,000 needy kids in Collier, Lee, and a special project in Hendry County received new shoes – 3,500 shoes were distributed In SWFL right after Hurricane Irma.
  11. CELEBRATE often and have fun!Remember that the kids you serve probably would not be wearing such nice, new shoes that fit properly if it weren’t for you!  Every donation, every pair of shoes donated to you, means one more child will have the gift of a new pair of shoes!