Sitting in her godown — an empty flat in Dadar —and surrounded by some 400 pairs of shoes, Karishma Gupte (23) is yet to come to terms with the impact of Footprints, her drive to collect discarded running shoes. Gupte then has them cleaned, mended if required, and readied to donate to children who cannot afford sports shoes.
Though the collection drive, carried out for four hours every Sunday for a month, concluded on August 2, Gupte’s phone is still ringing with shoe donation offers.
“People write in from all sorts of places. And some ask me why I’m not collecting clothes for the underprivileged,” says a bemused Gupte. “So I tell them that I thought of collecting shoes and if someone else wants to collect clothes, let them by all means do so.”
A week from now, when she hands over some footwear to students of municipal schools in Wadala, Dadar and Matunga, Gupte will look back at the last three months with satisfaction. It will be the culmination of her pilot project to make sports shoes available to students.
The idea happened quite by accident. One afternoon, while surfing the Net, Gupte chanced upon an organisation in Africa that collects discarded shoes and makes them available to those in need. “Nobody was doing this in India. So I decided to do it myself,” says this 2008 Miss India contestant.
To start with, she thought, she could donate at least two of her seven pairs of sports shoes. And friends and family could be coaxed to part with some of theirs. But was there really a demand for such shoes? To find out, she walked into the municipal school in the Sewri-Wadala Estate, near her home.
Digvijay Sangle, the sports teacher she met there, was quick to grasp the impact of her project. Says Sangle, “Every year the BMC gives one pair of shoes as part of the uniform to students in BMC-run schools. They wear the same pair when they play outside or in the playground. If the students got sports shoes at no cost to the school, I thought, it was a great idea.”
Encouraged by his response, Gupte walked into two more municipal schools in the vicinity. And knew she could make the idea work. Next came the collection drive. Messages on Facebook and word-of-mouth publicity helped spread the word about the shoe collection drive at Juhu, Marine Drive and Shivaji Park.
Five Gardens — the area that got the group the maximum donations on the first day, became a collection centre quite by chance. The first day of their shoe collection at Marine Drive coincided with the visit of US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton. “Our volunteers were driven away by the police for security reasons. So my father, a businessman, suggested that they stand at Five Gardens. And we got our first 15 pairs of shoes from Five Gardens on Day 1,” Gupte recalls.
Gupte, who has a Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM) degree from KC College, took some cues from her advertising lessons to design a catchy poster. ‘The last two wishes of your old shoes: 1. To be flung at your boss. 2. To be gifted to the underprivileged.’ it read.
It worked. Against their target of 200 pairs, Gupte and her team of 15-odd friends collected 700 of them. Reboot, a shoe laundry at Bandra, agreed to mend and dryclean the shoes at one-third their normal charges, reveals Gupte, as he sits in her makeshift warehouse, putting in new laces and insoles on the shoes as she packs them in cartons size-wise.
“NGOs like Jeet and Oscar Project have asked for 80 pairs all together. And we are also looking at giving them to residents of old-age homes,” she says.
Ashok Rathod, who started the Oscar Project in Ambedkar Nagar in Colaba to promote learning through sports for young children and adults, says, “We cannot wait to get 40 pairs for our members. They could never afford such shoes.”Thanks to Gupte, there will be some happy young feet running around in Ambedkar Nagar — and all over Mumbai.