A nonprofit founded by the Washington Shoe Company
Wear a Big Smile Foundation is a new charity started by an old Washington company. Washington Shoe Company started in Seattle in 1891 by a German shoemaker to provide boots for the Alaskan Gold Rush. It is still run by the same family, the Moehrings, the fourth generation. Five years ago, they moved to Kent because they needed a larger warehouse. They love working here because it is close to the airport, and many of them travel. There is also a nature preserve right behind their warehouse, and it is centrally located for their employees. Since Amazon opened in Kent, there are lots of restaurants available nearby now for lunch.
Nowadays Washington Shoe Company is known for its Western Chief brand of boots for men, women and kids and women’s fashion-focused waterproof boots branded Chooka. When they were getting ready to celebrate their 125th anniversary, they decided it was time they started to give back.
On January 1, 2016, the Wear a Big Smile Foundation (“WABS”) was launched, managed by one of the fourth generation Moehring brothers, Mark Moehring, Chief Officer of Operations. Their mission statement became “providing comfort kits and creating smiles for people in need.”
The industry working as it does, the boot warehouse is full of last season’s samples, unworn returns and left over stock. This is what primarily fuels the WABS giving. Instead of it all ending up in the landfill, they take them to people in need.
The first big event they participated in was at the Kent Clothing Bank at Phoenix Academy. Twice a month there is a day for people who are signed up to come and get what they need. WABS didn’t want their boots to count toward each person’s limit, so they set up outside the Clothing Bank and handed out their boots there.
Photo courtesy of Wear a Big Smile FoundationTheir biggest event was at the Clothing Bank too, handing out approximately 700 pairs of boots in one day! This has had such an effect on the employees at Washington Shoe Company, that they now have a clothing donation box in their front office for the Clothing Bank that gets filled regularly.
They donate to Kent Hope, a short-term woman’s shelter on Smith street, about every ninety days. The shelters have told them that here in Western Washington, staying dry is a challenge that takes up much of the homeless person’s day. Moehring said that at least they know the people they help will have dry feet now.
Elementary schools with a high percentage of free lunch program participants are also benefiting from WABS. Millennium and Pine Tree Elementary Schools last fall had a visit from Moehring and Stacy Cail, Marketing and PR Manager. Every kindergartner in the school got fitted with a brand new pair of rain boots. At one of these schools, Moehring had a life-changing moment. One little boy in line had ripped sandals, covered in duct tape and sopping wet socks from playing in the rain at recess. That day, Moehring knew they were making a difference to people.
“Giving back has changed by life,” said Moehring. All of the thank you cards and posters that have been sent to WABS are hung up all over the office and warehouse of the Washington Shoe Company.
Currently, WABS is working with fifteen organizations and ten schools, but they want to bump that up each year. Last year’s goal was to donate $125,000 worth of boots and raincoats in honor of their 125th anniversary. They exceeded this with a total of $174,000 which was about 4400 pairs of boots and 1200 raincoats! This year their goal is to give away 5000 pairs of boots and 2000 raincoats.
The most challenging parts of his job, said Moehring, is finding new organizations that can use their help, then finding the right person in an organization who understands what they are trying to do. Also, it’s hard when a child’s feet are too big for any of the boots they have with them at an event. They always come back the same day with a pair in that child’s size, even if he has to go to the store to buy a pair.
The best part of Moehring’s job is distributing the boots and getting to interact with the end user. He said he loves meeting the people who run the organizations and sometimes he gets to help someone try on boots too. At an average event, they pass out 100-120 pairs of boots.
Cail has even found a use for the odd single boots that turn up from time to time, she donates them to local garden stores for kid’s crafts, making planters out of boots!
The employees at the office and warehouse stand behind WABS proudly. They take turns volunteering for evening events, they collect all boots that can be used in some way, and they are even having their first Pie Fundraiser on June 26th. They are making pies and selling them for a dollar a slice to anyone in the area, as a way for employees and nearby businesses to contribute to the foundation.
“Most people want to help, they just don’t know how to,” said Moehring. He gave a couple of ways people could help in their cause: volunteer and donate.
This year and next WABS will be busy finding more organizations in Western Washington, as
well as looking in Eastern Washington and Oregon. Their long term plans are to help in other states and during natural disasters where they can partner with others like The Red Cross. The larger they get, the more they will be asking for volunteers to help. They are starting a volunteer email list on their website for those who wish to be contacted when help is needed.
They are also trying to find a source of socks to include with the boots next fall, because so many kids and Moms don’t have any socks. They welcome donations of socks to include in a “comfort kit” they hope to start passing out with the boots.
Moehring said if anyone knows of an organization that could use their help, to reach out to them.
“We have 5,000 boots to give away!” he said.