Students shed sneakers for TOMS Shoes
Published: Monday, April 12, 2010
Updated: Monday, April 12, 2010 23:04
I couldn't help feeling a little naked on Thursday when I stepped out the door en route to class, like I was missing something. Indeed, I was — at first, the cement was cool and hard on my feet, but my liberated toes quickly warmed up to it.
I left my sandals at home that day to participate in One Day Without Shoes, a worldwide event created by TOMS Shoes in order to spread awareness of children in underdeveloped countries who don't own a single pair of shoes. The philanthropic company gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair it sells.
When I first heard about the concept of One Day Without Shoes, I immediately decided I would try going barefoot for the day.
"How hard can it really be?" I asked myself. I thought about the social acceptance of the idea — I didn't realize yet that it might also be painful.
It didn't take long for me to find out. Upon arriving at my boyfriend's house to walk with him to class, he laughed first at the oddity of my feet on the pavement and second at my yelping from almost immediately stepping on a sharp pebble. The amount of pebble-related yelps escaping from my mouth steadily increased throughout the day, along with the number of stares.
Senior Bari Grossman, who has been a TOMS Shoes campus representative for two years, fills me in on the reality behind One Day Without Shoes early on in the day.
"It's not easy to walk barefoot around here, and we're lucky because we have sidewalks and paved roads and little brick pathways laid out across our green," Grossman said. "But there are children all over the world who are walking on dirt and rocks, and they have to go without shoes. It really literally puts you in someone's lack of shoes and gives you that perspective."
This year is Grossman's organizing the event at the university level.
"Last year, I just encouraged people to go barefoot for the day and we went for a barefoot walk in the afternoon, but it was a lot smaller because I wasn't quite sure how to go about making it bigger," she said.
Grossman, also the philanthropy director for UDress, says she asked Sandi Patterson from Clothes in the Past Lane to participate in the event this year. The clothing store is a local TOMS retailer and sold the shoes at a discount for the day.
"I'm just really excited to be participating in this day," Patterson said. "The store has a TOMS table outside with a sampling of all our shoes. One of our girls is a fine arts major, and she's decorating them to show people what can be done artistically."
According to the TOMS Shoes Web site, 250,000 people signed up to go barefoot on Thursday. By the afternoon, I was somewhat disappointed to have only passed two other barefoot students walking to and from classes, but I eventually united with another 30 or so that afternoon for a walk around The Green.
Around 3:30 p.m., shoeless students slowly trickled onto the North Green to congregate. Some were members of UDress, others were TOMS supporters and some were just free spirits looking for an excuse to go barefoot. My roommate showed up to walk for the latter reason.
As we began walking, the group collectively shouted to loungers on The Green and passersby to take off their shoes and join us. The response was mostly positive — some took off their shoes in support, others got up from their spots and join the barefoot pack.
"This group has doubled since we started walking!" senior Kaylee Weight said.
Freshman Arun Chacko stuck out to me as one of the few male walkers. Chacko says he participated in the event because he likes being barefoot and it's for a good cause.
"I've been barefoot all day," Chacko said. "I thought more people would be doing it, though. I got a lot of awkward stares from people, especially walking through Trabant barefoot."
Delaware Technical and Community College alumnus Joel Clyburn drove from Dover to participate in One Day Without Shoes.
"I heard about the walk here and came out since it's closer than driving to Philadelphia or Baltimore," Clyburn says, shoes in hand. "It's just great getting people together and walking. It's a good time for a good cause."
The walk ended in front of Clothes in the Past Lane. Outside the store were water bottles and fresh fruit for walkers, and barefoot students sitting at the table encouraged passersby to lose their footwear for a good cause. A poster board sign attached to a pole near the crosswalk read, "Take off your shoes!"
Grossman said she was happy with the turnout.
"What I really like about this day is that it's not about TOMS as a company or the fact that they're making money or selling shoes," she says. "It's about the cause, and it's a really good way to bring attention to it."
At the end of the day my feet were pretty sore, but despite the addition of a splinter, they've held up okay. As I washed them off with a wet towel, I think about how much dirtier and beat up they'd be if this was my life day in and day out.
"This is a lot of people's lives, and they don't have this choice," Grossman says.