Last Thursday, AU students walked barefoot from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and back in order to participate in “One Day Without Shoes,” a global event sponsored by TOMS Shoes.
TOMS Shoes encouraged groups to walk at least mile with no shoes in order to raise awareness about the impact that a pair of shoes can have in a child’s life, according to the TOMS Web site. Over 250,000 people participated in 1,600 events all across the globe, according to the site.
TOMS is a shoe company that donates one pair of shoes to children across the world for every pair bought.
Among those who walked were about 20 AU and Catholic University of America students who met at 5:00 p.m. to walk the 1.8-mile trek.
Lauren Simpson, a sophomore in the School of International Service and the Kogod School of Business, founded AU’s campus group for TOMS after Blake Mycoskie, the founder of the company, came to speak at AU last semester. Simpson contacted CUA to organize last week’s event because campus clubs across the country were participating in the awareness day.
“I decided to plan a walk down on the Mall because we’re in such a unique place to have this happen,” Simpson said. “We were down at the monument, and ... [passers-by] were really interested in why we were barefoot, and that’s exactly what TOMS’ objective is.”
Maura Bainbridge, a freshman in SIS who participated in the walk, estimated that the group stopped about 10 times to talk to at least 100 people who were curious about what they were doing.
“The most valuable part was telling other people about it.” Bainbridge said. “People weren’t familiar with the whole idea. The best experience for me was letting other people know.”
Chipotle contacted Simpson in order to donate free chips, salsa and guacamole for participants of TOMS’ day without shoes. AU and CUA students gave extra food to passers-by while they told them about the objectives of TOMS, Bainbridge said.
Simpson also walked shoeless for the whole day, in addition to the Mall walk.
“You can choose to go barefoot for 10 minutes, one class, for an hour, for all day — whatever fits your needs,” she said. “The point is just to do it.”
Simpson took her usual eight-minute walk from her apartment to AU for her morning class barefoot.
“It really raises awareness for me about how basic of a need it is for these kids,” she said. “A lot of kids can’t go to school because they don’t have shoes, and I can walk around at a private university without my shoes, and no one gives me a second notice because of the situation that I’m in and because of the privilege that we get in this country.”
Simpson also said that going barefoot all day heightened her sense of her surroundings because the terrain was sometimes painful. She had a large blister on the bottom of her foot to show for her day without shoes, but she said that people often face far worse consequences for going barefoot.
Some children contract a disease called podoconiosis, a form of elephantiasis, by walking on volcanic soil, she said. The disease is fully preventable if the children wear shoes.
“So if they had one pair, they could avoid getting a life-debilitating disease,” Simpson said.
“It really wasn’t bad,” she said. “It’s to raise awareness about the necessity for shoes for kids ... and the difference that one pair of shoes can make in a child’s life and to take that day to walk in someone else’s shoes — or the lack of.”
Simpson and Bainbridge like TOMS because of its one for one model, in which a free pair of shoes is given to a child in need for every pair of new shoes bought.
“They’re a for-profit business with a not-for-profit approach,” Simpson said. “What TOMS has done is taken this corporation ... and given them this humanitarian goal ... As a business student and someone who has always been into community organizing and things like that, that’s really what is the most important about the organization to me.”
Besides, Simpson said, “I love the shoes.”