It was 2007 when Charisma Cannon lost her marketing job in Atlanta, which had the ripple effect of eventually causing her to lose her house. While she was trying to untangle her financial affairs, she was also struck by a mysterious illness doctors couldn’t seem to diagnose. The least amount of activity exhausted her. She spent hours in bed. She moved back to her native Chicago to live with relatives.
The illness continued and now she didn’t have health insurance. Exasperated, one night as she lay in bed, she asked God “What should I do? What do I do to get my life back on track?"
“I got still and listened and I was told to give away new shoes. Shoes? I asked. I thought it was interesting. Then God gave me the name: ShoeHeals. H-e-a-l-s instead of h-e-e-l because when you give people new shoes, you are restoring the human spirit, you are healing.”
Cannon had never thought about starting a charity and she certainly had not given thought to giving away shoes. But after she heard the answer to her question, she got busy.
“I started doing research, first to see who else gave away shoes.” She found other organizations that did, but no one gave away new shoes to the demographic she had chosen to give to.
ShoeHeals gives to children in low income communities; mothers and families in homeless and domestic violence shelters; men and women in transitional houses where they are moving toward self-sufficiency; pregnant teens and runaway teens.”
Cannon discovered that shoes are the least donated item. “People will give you their clothes, their coats, toys, toiletries, all this other stuff before they will give you their shoes,” she said. “It’s because shoes are how we define and project ourselves. Also, people refurbish shoes, get them resoled.”
She didn’t want to give used shoes to people who already lacked basic necessities. Said Cannon, “To give them a used pair says ‘Because you are experiencing challenging life situations, you are relegated to second best; you can only have what other people don’t want.’”
Keith Richards, Store Manager of the Chicago-Chatham Wal-Mart, had never thought about the importance of shoes in boosting self-esteem or the number of shoes in his closet until he met Cannon at a community event sponsored by Wal-Mart.
“I grew up in Chicago and I wanted to make sure I was aligned—and had Wal-Mart aligned with organizations like hers who are doing something for the community,” said Richards. Wal-Mart gave Cannon a $4,000 grant last year.
“I went home the same day we talked and counted the shoes in my closet,” said Richards. “I had 62 pairs and that weekend I took some of my shoes to Salvation Army.”
Last Christmas season Matt Beresh and his wife gave a donation to ShoeHeals from their charity. He admits he would give to any cause led by Cannon. “There is something about her. Sure, her mission is fabulous but she’s got this personality and drive. You just know she is going to push this thing on her drive alone.”
Once Cannon bought shoes, she had to find a way to give them away. Some organizations were apprehensive to work with a new nonprofit, she said.
Cannon contacted Teen Living Programs, a nonprofit that provides shelter and supportive services to homeless youth.
“It was good timing. We typically receive clothing donations but seldom get new shoes,” said Michelle Goldberg, Development coordinator. “We accept gently used items but new shoes are a nice change.
“Charisma gave us a spread sheet and clients could note their shoe size and the type of shoes they wanted,” said Goldberg. “Some requested dress shoes and some wanted athletic shoes. They got to say what color they wanted, too, which made it a bit more special.”
These were, after all, young people who were used to getting whatever anyone gave them."
“You have them give them something you would feel comfortable and proud to wear yourself,” Cannon said. “You have to give them something they will feel confident in. You want them to walk forward with the self esteem That’s the point.
“I always try to get people to understand it’s not just about a pair of shoes; it’s about having shoes that make you feel like a million bucks, that make you believe you can have a better future and get a job to feed your family or do whatever you need to do.”
At Teen Living, the youth clients couldn’t believe someone was actually giving them new shoes.
“They don’t have a lot of stuff but they are still finicky,” Cannon said, laughing. “I had to find shoes they were pleased with. But when they opened those boxes they were overwhelmed with emotions. I gave Nike, Polo, Stacy Adams, Reeboks and brand names. You should have seen their faces. They were asking each other, ‘What did you get?’ and saying, ‘Oh man, those are decent.’ They were really shocked.
“Our motto," said Cannon, is: “We give stylish, functional, durable quality shoes."
Cannon is healthy now and excited about her organization’s future. She has partnered with various companies to raise money and awareness about the affect owning “new” shoes has on a person’s self development and pride. ShoeHeals has been chosen to partner with a Chicago-based organization called Good City, which incubates start-up nonprofits to help them develop their organizational structure and become sustainable.
“I feel like I know what it is like to lack the basic necessities, to go from having your own house and then living with someone; having a job to having no one hire you,” said Cannon. “I can’t imagine if I didn’t have an education and support. How do you move forward when you lack so much? How do you feel good about yourself?”
For more information on ShoeHeals, visit www.shoeheals.org.