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Footwear initiative for Ottawa youth in need now serving hundreds during pandemic

An Ottawa 21-year-old turned an idea to donate his extra pairs of shoes into a full blown charitable organization.

William Bourgault scanned his closet and noticed that he had a lot of footwear.

He would usually donate to the Salvation Army, but last summer he decided to start contributing to the community in a different way.

“I started collecting footwear from members of the public,” says the 21-year-old, who noticed that no local organization, at the time, that was giving away free footwear for families or children in need.

In August 2020, Bourgault, created Footwear 4 Kids. With a dedicated team of 20 volunteers that consist of volunteer drivers, family support workers, a family advisor and a delivery coordinator, they've collectively been working together to give back to the community.

“And then people started joining in and we had volunteer drivers [who] were helping out with collecting footwear and I quickly realized that I could make this organization more than a [one-off] charitable project,” explains the founder.

Currently operating in Nepean, Bourgault says many of the organization's volunteers have experience working or volunteering in social services or in a related field.

Since launching last August, Footwear 4 Kids has managed to assist at least 400 individuals and collected over 1,500 items.

Because Footwear 4 Kids was created in the midst of the pandemic, it wasn’t without its challenges.

“In terms of like our day-to-day operations, the communication with volunteers and with the family support workers, it's all online right now,” explains Bourgault. “We used to have meetings, where we would try to have meetings in-person, but now with COVID, and we can't really do that.”

Additionally, the volunteers also provide assistance to newcomers to Canada, who may not have access to basic necessities. They also assist low-income individuals or individuals who may have experienced unexpected circumstances such as a job loss or a house fire. Although their donations mainly come in from Barrhaven and Orleans, their organization continues to assist families in many other areas of Ottawa as well.

In collaboration with the Caldwell Family Centre and the City of Ottawa, Footwear 4 Kids also assists individuals who may be fleeing domestic abuse or domestic violence as well as the homeless community. Some of their external supporters include Roots Canada and Globo Shoes.

For Bourgault, giving back to his community has always been something that he’d been doing prior to this organization. Previously, he has volunteered as a victim support worker, assisting victims of crime and domestic violence, and he still serves on the Ottawa Police Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) to help strengthen police and youth relations.

He is also currently a police foundations student at Algonquin College.

“I've done a variety of initiatives, but I've volunteered in a variety of organizations and I think it's the experience from those organizations that I was able to transfer to this [organization],” says Bourgault. “I don't think most people would be able to pull something [like this] off.”

Bourgault says that his short-term goal for Footwear 4 Kids is recruiting more volunteers and eventually expanding the organization across Ottawa.

“The [people] that we've assisted are extremely grateful and happy to have this organization in place,” says Bourgault. “I've heard nothing but great feedback from the community. The people [who] are aware of the organization are super happy, there's finally something that is providing  those items.”

Although he has managed to help many individuals and families during this pandemic, he hopes people will continue to support local charitable organizations as much as possible.

“It's clear and obvious, but there's a lot of organizations, social organizations, that are extremely needed in the City of Ottawa, and the community really needs to continue working together and supporting those organizations that are in place right now.”

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