NAMPA, Idaho — Buying a new pair of shoes seems like a common occurrence for most Americans, but many kids in other countries don’t own a single pair. The Nampa-natives behind the non-profit Because International want to change that.
Founder Kenton Lee traveled to Kenya after college and learned many kids there would either walk around barefoot or cut off the front of their shoes to make room for their growing toes. So he got the idea: What if there was a shoe that could grow with them?
“It kind of opened my eyes to this issue of kids either having no shoes or having shoes that are way too small because they can’t afford to have another pair,” Lee said.
That was 15 years ago. Now, Because International produces The Shoe That Grows. It’s an innovative design that itself has grown over the years, expanding in the front, back, and sides, to grow five sizes. Their options cover anyone from a toddler to a men’s size 12.
“There’s velcro on the sides that the kids can move really easily on their own as their foot widens,” director Kayla Hetherington said. “We can make sure when the kids are getting fitted for the shoes that it is fitting them at their exact size in that moment and then it can continue to grow after that.”
Hetherington has been with the organization for seven years, inspired by their mission to make a difference.
“I just really believed in what [Kenton] was doing and what he could do,” Hetherington said. “Not just with shoes, but in the communities where they’re distributed, and that’s something I really wanted to be a part of.”
The shoes are actually manufactured in Kenya, creating local jobs, but Lee says the organization is only successful thanks to Treasure Valley support.
“In the early days, we reached out to tons of shoe companies – big ones – to see if they could help us; and all of them said no. But Nampa and the Treasure Valley supported us 100% in those early days,” Lee said. “Local people would come and help us, whether it was fundraising money or volunteering. We would not be here if it was not for Nampa and the Treasure Valley.”
Monday, January 23rd is actually National Measure Your Feet Day, highlighting the importance of making sure people are maintaining the health of their feet. “One of the recommended steps to take is to check that your shoes match the size of your feet, as wearing too small/tight of shoes can lead to long-term health problems,” according to the organization.
In the last seven years, they’ve distributed almost 400,000 pairs to kids in more than 100 countries.
You can help their mission with a recurring monthly donation through their program, The Sole. That helps get shoes to a dozen kids a year.