Back on their feet

Shoe Closets Inc. looks to provide shoes for students in need

By Jeremy Dunn

Barbara Olmstead has always been dedicated to helping others. The retired interior designer and former owner of Cornerstone Interiors recalled, “Through the years, while raising our girls, I had always worked for some organization to serve the less fortunate.” Since 2011, Barbara and her husband Mike (also a small business owner of Stewart Tire and Auto) have been supplying shoes for students in need throughout the Indianapolis area.

“My small group at church was helping four schools in the Greenwood area with clothes and shoes of any kind for a few years. We discovered that sneakers were what was needed the most, so my husband and I started to help four Perry Township schools. We heard there was a special need at Winchester Elementary and we lived close to there, so that got us started,” Olmstead said.

Barbara Olmstead started Shoe Closets Inc. after helping four schools in the Greenwood area with clothes and shoes through her church. (Submitted photos)

New beginnings

In 2013, shortly after Christmas, the Southside mother discovered a lump on her breast. After a doctor’s visit, it was confirmed to be cancer. Olmstead spent the following year undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments but her health was not the only thing that experienced a change. Leaning heavily on her faith, she gained a new perspective on her volunteerism. “…my faith in Jesus became my greatest joy. At the end of all that doctoring, I knew I had served myself long enough. It was time for me to devote the rest of my healthy days to helping others.” The retired interior designer was instilled with a deep passion to provide shoes for even more students.

Inspired by her new outlook, Olmstead took the advice of her granddaughter. “In November 2014, my granddaughter, who had just graduated from Indiana University with a not-for-profit degree, said, ‘You know Grandma, you could help a lot more children with sneakers if you got your 501c3 status from the government.’” After that divine conversation, Barbara and Mike moved to establish Shoe Closets Incorporated and expand upon their emphasis on helping others.

Filling up the closets

Shoe Closets operates by building a base shoe supply for a school and its students. Olmstead explained, “To start a new school, $3,000 is needed. That takes care of the inventory of about 70 pairs of shoes and the full year of replacing them as they are given away. After the initial investment, it takes $2,000 each year to keep it going.”

Volunteer Joan Spencer has seen first-hand the impact that the non-profit is having. “I know there are elementary-aged children whose families sometimes have difficulty providing even the most basic needs. I know from time to time duct taping shoes has been a fad but for some of these children, it may be a necessity,” she said.

Barbara and volunteers from Shoe Closets Inc. often shop at Wal-Mart to get sneakers for students.

“To establish a shoe closet at these schools provides shoes to children when needed and lets them (and maybe their parents) know that there are people who care. The cost to donate these shoes is not significant for many people, yet gives them a means to show Jesus’ love to others, as it does for me as a volunteer. I have fun going to the schools, can do so based on my schedule and pray that my small effort is having a positive impact on these children. I have also experienced a sincere appreciation from the school office staff whenever I have gone to the schools, showing me how much they care for the children.”

Moving forward

Since its induction, Shoe Closets has found a home in over 25 schools locally and as excited as the Olmsteads are about it, they do acknowledge that it creates some challenges. “It has been a bit of a challenge deciding which schools to help,” she said. “There are so many that need it. We are now in 28 schools throughout Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. We put a lot of miles on our car, as does every volunteer who is a ‘runner’ for us.”

Volunteers stay busy with Shoe Closets, which Barbara Olmstead began in 2011.

She continues that this does open doors for other opportunities to help, “I just do the best I can with the resources He (God) provides and help as many children as possible. We are now supplying socks and underpants to our schools, as we realize there is a need for them and have been taught to be open to any other way we can help, as we are considered ‘Community Partners’ at the schools.”

However, don’t be fooled. The Shoe Closets Inc. founder is having the time of her life, “There is nothing I would rather be doing in this stage of my life and I am surrounded by others that feel just as I do.” She also wants to share this opportunity with others, as she added, “We would be delighted to have more volunteers to further the work!”

Want to make an impact with Shoe Closets Inc.? You can contact them at shoeclosetsinc@gmail.com , visit shoeclosets.org or call (317) 997-0066.

5 Questions with Barbara Olmstead

#1. What is your favorite part about the south side of Indianapolis? I love the south side of Indianapolis because of its family-friendly environment.

#2. What is your favorite book and why? The Bible, because it never stops giving.

#3. What is the greatest advice you have ever received? “Do unto others…,””Rejoice, again I say… Rejoice!” “All things happen for good to those…,” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

#4. What has been your greatest accomplishment?  All things are possible with God.

#5. What are things that will always bring a smile to your face and why? God’s sense of humor. The geese in flight. The markings of a butterfly… and a bug! The sunset. Being by the water. Watching strangers care for each other.