Career

The inspirational 16-year-old whose charity work puts shoes on the feet of school children in need

Teenager Maddison McQueen-Davies’ initiative to help less-fortunate school students has gained a toe-hold in the Manawatu.

By Julia Braybrook

When most teens are focused on school or their social life, Maddison McQueen-Davies is pitching in to help her community, one pair of shoes at a time.

The 16-year-old founded the organisation Share a Pair to help less fortunate families provide their children with decent school footwear.

For some families, Maddison says, "getting a new pair of shoes is just something that's very far down on the priority list. After you've got to pay for rent, power, the car, getting a pair of shoes doesn't really come into the equation."

The organisation grew from hearing about the need in her Palmerston North community.

Maddison's mum, Tania, would come home from the school where she works with stories of children coming to school with broken shoes, meaning they'd spend the day with wet or cold feet, or with the wrong kind of shoes, so they'd be told off for incorrect footwear.

Tania would also try to find cheap shoes on TradeMe and in op-shops to give to her students. Then, as the end of the school year was fast approaching, Maddison realised that the Year 13s in her school would be leaving – and taking their school shoes with them.

"They had their shoes that they paid $120 for that were still really good quality, and they were just going to end up sitting under their bed gathering dust or be thrown away. So I saw that there was something there that would fulfill that need, an easy patch to make."

Maddison put notices up at her school asking for pre-loved shoes, and contacted different schools – including her old intermediate school – as well as spreading the word around the community and online at Share a Pair's Facebook page: "It's incredible how much you can do when people are sharing your stuff."

It was a little tough going in the beginning – Maddison says she was "absolutely shocking" at asking for shoes, and some of those who she approached told her, "'Oh, that's a really cute idea, but don't be upset if you don't get very much.'"

While she was hoping to get 50 lots of shoes to help her mum's school, Share a Pair recently donated their 500th.

"People are just so accommodating," says Maddison of the help she's received.

"I think that's something fantastic about being from New Zealand, which I think lots of other countries in the world don't have. We are quite a small place so people are willing to help out and willing to do good, and help you to do good."

Maddison works with Kelly's Footwear in Palmerston North, which has been the collection point for the shoes "right from the get-go".

Once they get a couple of boxes of shoes, Maddison picks them up and the shoes are then cleaned, sorted into their sizes and then advertised on the Facebook page, where Maddison organises to either drop them off or have the family pick them up. It's a family-run operation, "whether that's sitting down and cleaning a couple hundred pairs of shoes or driving me to go make all these drop-offs all over town."

Maintaining dignity for those who need help is important for Maddison.

"I suppose you just want people to feel like they can approach the Facebook page without having the fear of that being seen anywhere. It's not like there's anything to be embarrassed about, but I'm sure you know teenage girls probably don't want to ask for those sorts of things."The organisation has grown a lot since Maddison started it last year as a Year 11 student, and while it still hands out school shoes and sneakers, these days Share a Pair provides everything from slippers to stilettos.

On top of families contacting the Facebook page, other schools in the Manawatu and Tararua region email when they need shoes, and the Red Cross gets in touch to collect shoes for refugee families.

Share a Pair also works with local organisation Replay, who provide pre-loved sports gear to those in need.

"If someone asks me for rugby boots or sports shoes and we don't have their size, it's been fantastic to be able to get in touch with Replay, and we're often able to help each other out and share some shoes with each other, depending on what the need is."

Recently, the Mazda Foundation donated $2000 to Share a Pair to purchase a range of shoes in different sizes for students, such as larger sizes which are rarely donated. And Maddison no longer finds it hard to reach out.

"Now I don't care about chucking up a poster saying 'Does anyone have any size 10 sneakers?'"

Share a Pair's growth, and the community support behind it, is "really awesome", says Maddison.

"It's very humbling for me to be able to see how much of a need there is, I guess I didn't realise how lucky I am."

Other communities have gotten in touch to start the initiative in their own areas, from Northland to Wellington to Nelson.

"The fantastic thing with this idea I think is that it can be replicated almost anywhere with reasonably minimal effort."

Maddison, who juggles running Share a Pair with being the chair of the Palmerston North Youth Council and maintaining Excellence grades for NCEA, acknowledges that finding time to do all the things she does "is definitely a tough one".

But she just gets on with it – even if that does mean only getting a few hours of sleep a night.

In the long-term, Maddison has her sights on going to university, and eventually, ending up in politics – "that's really where I see that I can make the biggest difference".

In the meantime, she will keep on giving back to her community.

"It's been pretty incredible seeing the impact, not just at my mum's school but also people in the community and from all walks of life."

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