Lacking shoes and socks, the barefoot man was the lone figure to exit the Milwaukee Transit System bus making an unexpected stop during Holy Week outside Fr. Gene’s HELP Center in West Allis.Pastor James W. West, Jr., executive director of Repairers of the Breach, sorts through donations given to the homeless shelter through Stan’s Fit for Your Feet “Share-A-Pair” shoe drive on Monday, Feb. 16. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)

“I remember it so vividly. Here was a man with no shoes and socks. God bless the bus driver for stopping in front of Fr. Gene’s,” said Deacon Don Borkowski of Fr. Gene’s, which supplies shoes, socks and other clothing to the homeless and needy in the Milwaukee area.

“It truly felt like Holy Week. I washed the man’s feet and gave him a pair of shoes and socks,” Deacon Borkowski said.

To donate shoes:

Drop them off at Stan’s locations in Brookfield in The Plaza, 17155 W. Bluemound Road; Stan’s Glendale store across from Bay Shore Town Center at 505 W. Silver Spring Drive; or Stan’s Greenfield store in the Layton Plaza at 7405 W. Layton Avenue.

Anyone donating shoes to the “Share-A-Pair” drive will also receive a $10 Stan’s Fit For Your Feet gift card to be used toward a footwear purchase throughout February at any Stan’s Fit For Your Feet or New Balance Milwaukee location.

The act of giving several years ago marked the early days of a program by Stan’s Fit for Your Feet, known as “Share-A-Pair,” aimed at attracting community donations of shoes for the homeless and needy of Milwaukee.

“We’ve always made it part of our business to give back to the community,’” said Megan Sajdak, marketing director for Stan’s, which is celebrating its 65th anniversary as a family owned shoe

Stan’s has collected 180,000 pairs of donated shoes in the first eight years of the annual “Share-A-Pair” shoe drive and expects that total to top 200,000 during the 2015 drive, which continues through February.

“We are looking for gently used footwear for all seasons,” Sajdak, a graduate of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, said. “Most of us have at least a couple pairs of shoes to choose from when we get up in the morning. Some people have no shoes or shoes with so many holes they are not fit to wear.”

Sajdak said Milwaukee residents are generous in donating shoes.

“The need for shoes is ageless. People are amazing in their generosity. A lot of people have really good hearts,” Sajdak said.

Periodically, a team of 20 Stan’s employees will take to the road to fit shoes for the homeless and needy, in one instance fitting 700 people in a single day.Pictured are members of the Sajdak family: Andrew, left to right, David, Jim, Megan and Ben Sajdak. Not pictured is mom, Sue Sajdak, a teacher at Marquette University High School, Milwaukee. (Submitted photo courtesy the Sajdak family)

“I often say we (Stan’s and Fr. Gene’s) are in the same business of saving souls,” Deacon Borkowski said. “There is a definite need for shoes among Milwaukee’s needy.”

In addition to Fr. Gene’s, Repairers of the Breach, Milwaukee’s only day shelter for the homeless, is also a beneficiary of Stan’s shoe drive.

“People who come here are homeless and have been walking the streets for a long time,” said Joyce Roesler, board president of Repairers of the Breach and a member of St. Mary Parish, Hales Corners. “One of their basic needs is shoes. Their shoes are often worn, or soaking if it rains or snows.”

Some clients have to walk a dozen or more blocks to the shelter.

“When they are able to come to us, we are able to offer them a pair of dry shoes and clean socks,” Roesler said. “Their reaction is unbelievable. To see the look on their face is great.”

Roesler noted that Stan’s CEO, Jim Sajdak, is a former board member of Repairers of the Breach.

“Jim knows from being a former board member how great the need for shoes is in Milwaukee … how great it is to have a simple pair of decent shoes,” Roesler said. “Most people are very (well-meaning), but don’t understand the needs of the homeless like Jim.”

Megan Sajdak said she and her brother, Ben, a Marquette University High School graduate, plan to take their efforts international this year, personally traveling to Guatemala with a truckload of shoes for the international group “Soles4Souls,” a previous beneficiary of Share-A-Pair. The Sajdak family are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Milwaukee.

“We will take care of our local needs first. What is not needed will be sent to Guatemala,” Megan Sajdak said. 

“This is the first time either of us has done anything like this (travel to Guatemala). I know for me it’s been on my bucket list for a long time. I’ve always wanted to travel on a mission trip to help people.”