Putting heart and soles into helping the community

July 21, 2021 Brad Perkins

Steel-toed boots from Changing Footprints help Staff Management | SMX associates get to work

Must provide own steel-toed boots.

It’s a phrase that appears often in job listings for manufacturing and warehouse roles. But for some applicants, it’s a barrier to starting or even applying for these jobs.

“It’s heartbreaking to see people have to turn down a job offer or not apply at all because they don’t have the required PPE,” said Heather Phelps, managing director of operations for Staff Management | SMX in northern Indiana. “Instead of sitting by, we wanted to be part of the solution.”

So Phelps and Ashton Killey, a recruiter with Staff Management | SMX’s Greenfield, Ind., office, connected with Changing Footprints to start a partnership to bring steel-toed shoes and boots to associates who need them.

Changing Footprints is a suburban Indianapolis-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to getting shoes to people in need. In 2019, they distributed 75,000 pairs of shoes – 80 percent of which stayed in Indiana. With five locations across Indiana, they are able to reach the majority of the state. But this is the first time they’ve partnered with a staffing company to solve a job-related problem.

“Staff Management | SMX has decided that solving the jobs problem involves solving the shoe problem. They are pioneers in this,” said Bob Broughton, board president of Changing Footprints. “They recognized that it is a dilemma because maybe 10% of folks that are filling manufacturing or distribution jobs aren’t in a financial position to get steel-toed boots. So we’re delighted to have the opportunity to partner with Staff Management | SMX and be a potential piece of the solution.”

The connection goes back a few years, when Phelps began directing people to Changing Footprints’ Rushville, Ind., location if they needed steel-toed shoes. Earlier this year the Seymour, Ind., office held a shoe drive in conjunction with Changing Footprints.

But as more companies opened up, Staff Management | SMX found a need for a more permanent partnership to help potential associates who needed the proper footwear to start new jobs. In July, they began working together in Greenfield, Ind., near Indianapolis, where both Staff Management | SMX and Changing Footprints have locations – and where Changing Footprints' Hancock County location has a walk-in store.

“It’s a perfect pairing because if you ask, ‘what is the most efficient way to get our workers back to work with the footwear they need?’ They come in and we have hundreds of the most awesome steel toed boots,” said Site Director Deb Cherry. “They come in and shop the whole place. Every pair of shoes that goes out of here has new socks tucked into them.”

The Greenfield partnership is the pilot, but the goal is to expand it across the state and ultimately donate 500 pairs of shoes to workers who need them this year.

“We’re going to provide 10-40 containers that will be distributed from Lafayette down to Jeffersonville, across the state,” Broughton said. “As SMX personnel travel between the various offices, they will then carry those shoes and boots back to the Greenfield area where they will end up supporting the program for steel toed boots or the other shoe programs that we have.”

The program will benefit more than just workers in need – it helps the community by not only connecting people and work, but keeping shoes out of landfills and bringing people together to help their communities by donating, helping Changing Footprints sort shoes and by opening up jobs to more people, especially those returning to the workforce.

“It’s the ultimate recycling,” Cherry said. “It’s not just steel toed boots as far as employment, we have one whole rack of nothing but black, sturdy, rugged shoes on the bottom that restaurants accept as work shoes and on that same rack are good sturdy walking shoes.”

Cherry, who has been with Changing Footprints for over 10 years, make sure not only to wish workers well, but ask if they need shoes for their families as well. So whether it’s from a bin in a Staff Management | SMX client site or at the Changing Footprints location, workers are offered both shoes and well-wishes, in a partnership that is sure to expand.

“People leave here very happy and we’re able to say good luck on their new job,” she said. “It’s a positive affirmation to them and I think they appreciate that, when you give them a high-five and say good luck on the new job, they just light up.”

If you'd like to donate to this cause, contact Heather Phelps to learn more.

About the Author

Writer. Photographer. Runner. World traveler. Sports fan. Proud left-hander.

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