A surprise awaited visitors of the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen on Thursday afternoon.
In addition to the free pizza delivered by Shakespeare’s every Tuesday and Thursday, visitors were fitted for and given free pairs of Naot brand shoes and sandals. The shoes were donated to the St. Francis House by Yaleet Inc., makers of Naot Footwear. Student volunteers from the Hillel Foundation helped with the fitting.
Lana Jacobs, a founder of Loaves and Fishes, said that shoe donations have been received before, but this is the first time recipients have been fitted for them.
“We’ve been excited for weeks,” Jacobs said about the donation.
Each year, based on information from its retailers, Naot selects cities for donations. In Columbia, company representative Vince Hults distributed the shoes. The Hillel Foundation contacted the Jewish Student Organization to help with the fitting.
“We’re really pleased to do it,” Hillel Director Kerry Hollander said.
United Parcel Service delivered the 150 pairs of shoes free of charge.
The fitting began after the student volunteers received a quick lesson in shoe sizing from Hults and quickly got to work helping recipients find the right fit.
“You should work in retail,” an impressed Hults told Hillel volunteer Marian Trattner as she competently moved people through the fitting line.
The free shoes came as a surprise to many of their recipients, which included St. Francis House residents and people who frequent Loaves and Fishes.
“I just came here for the pizza,” said Gary Komin, who was pleased to leave with a brand new pair of shoes.
Curious visitors quickly began crowding around the four fitting chairs as the volunteers scrambled to find the right sizes. Rumors quickly spread about the price of the Israeli-made shoes.
“Most are priced around $115 to $126,” Hults said. “(The shoes are) some of the best quality in the marketplace.”
Justin Riley, a manager at Dryer Shoes, added that Naot is similar to Birkenstock, another popular brand of footwear.
As volunteers began to pack things up, several late-comers jumped in line to make sure they got a pair.
“It looks like we got through half of them,” Hults said of the shoes. The rest will be left for St. Francis House workers to distribute as they wish.
The volunteers said they felt a sense of accomplishment.
“I’m glad I came out,” Trattner said. “It’s nice to give back to the community, especially when you’re always wrapped up in college.”