Rebecca Mason

Student makes shoe collection her 'Sole Purpose' Footwear, donated by the dozens, helps the homeless by gina vergel

Staff Writer Twenty-three-year old Ridgewood resident Rebecca Mason is a Sociology and Education major at Ramapo College. Unlike some collegians that have been celebrating the end of a semester by hitting the mall and updating their spring shoe collections, Mason has been keeping busy collecting old, used shoes. These shoes of all sizes, however, are not for the feet of the petite Mason; they serve a better purpose - to help the homeless. Since April, Mason has been making routine stops at Town and Country Apothecary and A Place in the Sun tanning salon in downtown Ridgewood, emptying bins filled to the brim with gently worn footwear, donated by the public, and driving them to a homeless shelter in Newark. Mason got the idea for this helpful service, called "Sole Purpose," while watching a television talk show in March. "On 'The Sharon Osbourne Show,' I had seen a girl, who started [Sole Purpose] in Southern California," said Mason, adding that she called the founder for information about starting the cause in Ridgewood. "Then I went around asking local businesses and schools if I could put bins [in their buildings,] and I started collecting." Mason also set up a bin at Ridge elementary school. Within the first few days, Mason had 200 pairs of shoes. "It got to be a little much at Ridge School because there were bags and bags coming in," she said. "So I removed that one since school will be ending next month. But the other two bins are still going on and staying strong." According to the web site, www.solepurpose.com, the idea for the project occurred to founder Kristina Radnoti while, coincidentally, she too was watching television. An image of Afghan soldiers, most of them shoeless, on CNN moved her into taking action. As she discovered that the fees and convenience of shipping shoes to Afghanistan would be too much, Radnoti looked into collecting footwear for the disadvantaged in her area.   "I found out that a homeless person wears out a pair of shoes every 6-8 weeks," Radnoti says on her web site adding, "there are more than 350,000 homeless people in the state of California." What better place to start a shoe donation effort than the state that boasts Hollywood as one of its cities?   Since Sole Purpose's inception in February of 2002, Radnoti and her "shoe crew" have collected over 7,000 pairs of shoes for the needy. Even "tinseltown" noticed her efforts as she landed guest appearances on the 'John Walsh' show as well as the aforementioned 'Sharon Osbourne' show. Since then, Radnoti's cause has spread to a few states across the country, all listed on her web site, where she asks for others to start chapters elsewhere, even offering to help. Enter Mason and the not-so-little village of Ridgewood. After researching homeless shelters in urban cities such as Newark and Paterson, she settled on making donations to the Goodwill Rescue Mission in Newark. As the bins get full, she dusts them off, sprays Lysol disinfectant on them, ties them up in pairs and loads them into her car, ready for delivery. Having already donated over 500 pairs to the Essex County shelter, Mason will continue to look for other takers. Rev. Daniel Shaw, the development director of Goodwill Rescue Mission, told The Ridgewood News that the used shoes he has received from Sole Purpose are put to a good use. "We serve the poor in addition to the homeless here," said Shaw. "The shoes ... go to our clothing room and are made available to the homeless. But if we can't use them there, then they go to our thrift store, where they are made available at low prices for the working poor." When asked if her participation in Sole Purpose serves an additional purpose, such as required community service for school, Mason said it was "just" something that she wanted to do. It's also something that she constantly thinks about as she added that donations of cleats and high heels were welcome. "There are programs where they help women get suits and high heels for them to use as they interview for jobs," Mason said. Bins for Sole Purpose are located at Town and Country Apothecary and A Place in the Sun tanning salon in downtown Ridgewood. To donate clothing or furniture to the Goodwill Rescue Mission, call (973) 621-9560. Gina Vergel's e-mail address is vergel@northjersey.com

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