University City

Club supports drive for kids with no shoes

Like most people around here, Bronwyn Buedel usually wears shoes. But for one day last April she went without.

She spent the entire day hobbling over marble-size pebbles, wincing on jagged rocks and giving her pedicured feet a pumice-like treatment along the rough brick of UNC Charlotte's paths.

She likes to think someone in a Third World country has a new pair of shoes because of that.

Through events like One Day Without Shoes, which asks people to go shoeless for a day to see how it feels, Buedel hoped to arouse the interest of other students on campus who may not realize that millions of people in Third World countries live without basic footwear.

"It was only a day that I went shoeless," Buedel said of the experience, which left her feet raw and sore. "Some people have to go every single day and will never have a pair of shoes."

Last spring, Buedel and others began a TOMS Club chapter on campus to help spread the word. Buedel serves as its first president. "We thought it would be really successful at UNC Charlotte because we see people with TOMS all the time walking around campus," she said.

TOMS shoes have become a popular brand on high school and college campuses since founder Blake Mycoskie launched his socially conscious shoe company in 2006.

Mycoskie's for-profit business also provides footwear for children in Third World countries. For every pair bought, another pair is donated.

In its first four years, TOMS delivered more than a million shoes in 23 countries worldwide. South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia lead among countries that receive the most.

In that time, TOMS Clubs have sprouted up internationally on campuses and anywhere else the shoes enjoy a thriving popularity.

Whether a child has a pair of shoes to wear growing up can determine his or her outcome in life, experts have said. Many schools in Third World countries turn away children who can't afford shoes, and soil can harbors diseases and parasites like hookworms that can stunt a child's physical and mental growth.

"Shoes determine a lot," said Kim Henderson, 20, who joined the club after hearing about it from a friend. "Shoes have such a huge impact on your daily life, your comfort."

Henderson, an art major, helped manage the club's Style Your Sole event in November. Art students gathered on campus to decorate anyone's TOMS for free.

That day, between 10 and 15 people handed over their stark white shoes to be painted into everything from murals to cartoon characters, said Henderson.

To her, it was an easy way to help out: "You're giving back with something so simple."

Buedel said the club uses events like Style Your Sole and One Day Without Shoes to raise awareness for children who often walk miles barefoot.

She and the 19 other members of the slowly growing club hand out fliers targeting students who wear TOMS on campus. "We try to get their friends to tell friends," Buedel said.

The lesson she learned last April made a lasting impression.

"Going shoeless is a lot harder than you think," she said.