By Crystale Lopez
All it took was a walk last summer for Eric Castillo, UIW kinesiology/communications major, and his partner Jessica Renee, a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer, to take a good look around and realize a community need they had the ability to help fulfill.
“Eric and I recognized the need others have for a pair of shoes,” Renee said. “Whether it be a homeless person who does not have any shoes at all or a less fortunate person that lives in an underprivileged area and may not have a good pair of shoes – there are so many people out there who need shoes.”
In seeing this great need, Castillo and Renee looked at the opposite end of the spectrum, at those who have extra pairs of shoes in their closet. “So many of us have many pairs of shoes in our closet and being able to donate several or even one pair is pretty easy for a lot of people,” Renee said.
The duo saw this as an opportunity to help the less fortunate and on July 1, 2012 they founded A Walk in My Shoes, a charitable organization that collects new or gently worn shoes to help others.
“When we started out we had the idea to hold monthly shoe drives,” Castillo said. “At our first drive at a local H-E-B we only expected to gather a few pairs of shoes but ended up collecting 500 pairs. At our drive the following month at John Marshall High School 1,400 pairs were donated in a four-hour period.”
Castillo and Renee said after hosting the first two shoe drives, A Walk in My Shoes went viral through media attention, networking and Facebook. The organization went from one monthly drive to having eight to 10 shoe drives at one time through UIW, the San Antonio community, and local school districts, offices and businesses.
“The UIW community has been so helpful,” Castillo said. “From October to November, the UIW Eye Institute offered us a $1 donation for each ‘like’ their page and our page received on Facebook. They ended up donating $1,200 to our organization to purchase brand new shoes.”
Castillo said UIW professors have asked him to attend their classes to talk to other students about the charitable organization. “UIW is its own community and such a good place to target to spread the word,” he said. “Professors and students have really come together and before we knew it, there were students tracking us down on Facebook to let us know they were bringing shoes to school for us.”
Castillo, a UIW football player, said he has also received generous support from the football team and coaches, including Head Coach Larry Kennan.
“At the beginning of the fall 2012 football season, Coach Kennan told me that for the first game he wanted to offer free admission to anyone who brought a pair of shoes to donate to A Walk in My Shoes,” Castillo said. “I thought it was so impactful to others to see UIW stepping up so big to help.”
Kennan explained the importance to back his players on and off the field because of the tremendous support his players provide to the team. “I love what Eric and Jessica are doing for others to give back,” he said. “Unless there is a circumstance beyond my control, my response will always be ‘yes’ to help anyone doing something so good for the community.”
Kennan added, “At UIW we always talk about helping others and being a source of service for the community – it is a great part of who we are. Eric and each player on our team are like a part of my family and if we can help each other out we will.”
Renee, being in pharmaceutical sales, has also had doctors’ offices offer to keep baskets at their locations to collect shoes or bring bags of shoes from their neighborhoods and families.
“It is amazing how this has spread like wildfire,” Renee said. “We knew it was going to grow and that people would donate shoes but we had no idea it would happen so quickly.”
Castillo and Renee began with the initial goal of collecting 500 pairs of shoes in one year but rapidly collected more than 5,000 pairs in the first six months of operation.
Once collected, they work with local organizations including, but not limited to, the Boys and Girls Club, SAMMinistries, Haven for Hope, and Dress for Success. Castillo and Renee also drive around the underprivileged areas of San Antonio to offer shoes to those they see in need. A Walk in My Shoes has furnished shoes ranging from toddler to size 14 running shoes, cleats, high heels, boots and more.
While helping local organizations on a regular basis, Castillo and Renee also find it necessary to reach out directly to those in need. “We pack our trunk with 100 pairs of shoes, drive around the streets in underprivileged areas and when we see people in need of shoes we open our trunk and let them pick what they want,” Castillo said. “Actually fitting someone for a pair of shoes and seeing one-on-one where the shoes are going makes what we are doing mean that much more to us.”
“The 2011 Census showed the poverty rate at 19.2 percent in San Antonio,” Renee said. “So, out of every 100 people there are 19 in poverty and with more than one million people in the San Antonio area, that is a lot of people in need. It is something you just do not realize until you get out there.”
Castillo said their organization has had the opportunity to share shoes with four of the five Boys
and Girls Club San Antonio locations.
Angie Mock, CEO of the Boys and Girls of San Antonio said A Walk in My Shoes has provided thousands of shoes to its members in the last few months. “Shoes can be such an expense for families who are struggling to meet basic needs,” she said. “Ninety percent of our members live in households that receive some form of federal assistance, so clearly the need is there.”
Castillo and Renee said they appreciate how the community continues to reach out through shoe drop-offs as well. “When we donated 500 pairs of shoes to Haven for Hope, Coach Kennan, some of the UIW football players, Former Mayor Ed Garza, and a member of the U.S. Air Force came out to participate,” he said. “Coming together like that just makes more noise and helps get the word out even more.”
On Jan. 11, A Walk in My Shoes delivered 500 pairs of shoes to SAMMinistries, an interfaith ministry dedicated to providing shelter and care to the homeless of San Antonio. The organization serves children and adults of all ages and Navarra R. Williams, its president and CEO, said some of the shoes are now being used to get parents to and from work, students to school, and are even helping children learn how to walk.
“A Walk in My Shoes is not only important to those in need of shoes but is also a way for the community to come together and support those less fortunate,” Williams said. “It truly does take a community to do God’s work in San Antonio.”
A Walk in My Shoes has also had the opportunity to step out globally to help other countries. “It truly has taken on a life of its own to go beyond San Antonio,” Renee said. “We have sent shoes to Kenya, Syria, Guatemala, Haiti and shoes have been requested to be sent to other countries as well.”
While Castillo and Renee are constantly being approached about going global with their organization, the two prefer to keep the main focus on San Antonio.
“Driving around the neighborhoods in San Antonio where we see houses falling apart and children running around outside with no shoes or sandals is when we know there is much more work that needs to be done here before we work outward globally,” Castillo said.
Castillo and Renee said they could not have grown their organization without the support of UIW and the San Antonio community. “Not only has UIW been a great source of help, but I am truly grateful to be a part of the university and for the many opportunities they have offered me while attending school and playing football,” Castillo said. “It was important to me to give back and help and inspire others.”
Now that the organization has been running for months and Castillo and Renee have seen the positive impact it has had on the community they do not see a stopping point and hope to continue growing and getting more people involved.
“The many shoes we have dropped off so far are a small dent to what we can do in the future,” Castillo said.
To volunteer, host a shoe drive, donate shoes, or for more information about A Walk in My Shoes, visit www.facebook.com/aWalkInMyShoesSanAntonio.