Ontario teen collecting thousands of shoes for people experiencing poverty
TORONTO -- For two years, 13-year-old Maya Reiter-Lee has been growing a collection of new and gently used shoes, donated to her by others in the community.
“We get winter boots, we get high heels, running shoes, sandals,” she told CTV News Toronto. “All sizes, all colours.”
The teen from Kitchener, Ont. has been holding shoe drives and collecting through donation boxes since November 2018. Inspired by a documentary she saw on kindness, Maya Reiter-Lee wanted to make a difference for people experiencing poverty here at home and around the world.
“Soles4Souls is a charity organization which my mom and I decided to join,” she explained. “They have teams of people that sign up to collect shoes for people in other countries that are less fortunate.”
“I’m so proud of her. [Maya] is very determined,” Mother Deanna Reiter said of her daughter. “We’re doing this shoe drive, and honestly it was her idea.”
What started out with shoe donations from the closets of friends and family members became something much bigger.
“I’m driving around a lot collecting shoes, counting shoes, putting them in bags. I have thousands of shoes in my garage!” Deanna Reiter laughed. “When we were told that we could join the 25,000 pair of shoes shoe drive, I pretty much said that’s impossible. Maya jumped up and said ‘yup we have to do it’!”
“Our goal is 25,000 pairs of shoes,” Maya Reiter-Lee explained, adding that Soles4Souls rewards people who reach that goal with a trip to one of the countries they serve to distribute the shoes.
“If we can reach our goal, I hopefully get to see the looks on those people’s faces when they get their new pairs of shoes.”
It’s a lofty goal, made even more challenging with COVID-19.
“Since the pandemic started we haven’t been able to collect from schools anymore,” Maya Reiter-Lee said.
“We had our drop off locations at various gym, and unfortunately a couple of those gyms have closed,” Deanna Reiter said.
One solution was a drive-thru event held at The Whip Boxing Academy in Waterloo.
“There was no contact, you could drive up, just drop off your shoes and keep going,” Deanna Reiter explained. “People are just amazingly generous and kind, especially when they see a young person trying to make a difference in this world.”
Another option for those looking to contribute is to make a monetary donation.
“One dollar equals one pair of shoes,” Maya Reiter-Lee explained.
“We did receive a couple of very generous donations of 500 dollars each from a couple of companies, which really helped because that’s 500 pairs of shoes,” Deanna said.
The mother-daughter duo plan to keep pushing through the pandemic toward their goal, noting that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I’ve been ready to quit,” Deanna Reiter admitted. “Maya’s been my inspiration because she’s never said ‘yeah, let’s quit.’ She’s always said ‘no, we’ve got to keep going’.”
Maya Reiter-Lee hopes that anyone staying home and cleaning out their closet considers donating to her cause.
“Instead of throwing out your old shoes, you can just give them to us!” she says. “We want to take them and put them on somebody else that needs them more than we do.”
The family is hoping to set up drop-off locations at fitness centres in the GTA upon re-opening.