A story about donated shoes

brown high heel boots
There is a woman who works for a friend of mine. I’ll call her Gulia since half the women in this country go by Gulia, so it’s safely anonymous. Every winter, all winter long, Gulia wears the same pair of battered brown ankle boots. They are too small for her, and they have no insulation. We know this because Gulia complains about her boots every day, all winter long. Her feet get cold, and her toes hurt.

My friend is a good person and a caring employer. She pays Gulia well enough that she could buy herself a pair of boots, but Gulia never does. She also gives Gulia boots.

She has given Gulia knee-high black boots to go with a dress. She has given her insulated fuzzy boots to fight the cold. She has given her cheery yellow rain boots to splash through the puddles that cover the roads here. Gulia does not wear these boots. When my friend asks about these boots, Gulia thanks her warmly for her generosity and insists that she wears the boots all the time, just not to work. We are quite sure that Gulia is lying about this.

Now, Gulia likes me. She is supporting her parents on her salary, and she likes that I am doing the same for my parents. She is ethnically Uzbek, and I speak Uzbek, so we can chat in her mother tongue. We get along. My friend asked me to try and find out what exactly was going on with the boots.

So, the other day I asked. And Gulia actually told me what was going on with the boots.

The answer? She’s short, and she’s a mom. Because she’s a mom, when she has cash she can spare, she doesn’t spend it on boots for herself. She spends it on her kids. Because she’s short, she only wears shoes with heels. And since my friend has been trying to give her practical, durable boots, she’s been buying flats. The ankle boots may hurt, but they have heels. Gulia can’t face life without the extra two inches. She’d rather have pinched toes and cold feet.

My friend’s gift boots are sitting at home in Gulia’s closet, waiting for Gulia to get so old she can’t wear heels any more, except for the fuzzy pair, which her mother now wears in cold weather.

The moral? There are several, I think. 1) Gulia wants other things, like school supplies for her kids, more than she wants new boots, so maybe we should stop giving her boots. 2) People want what they want, whether or not it makes sense to me. 3) And donated shoes need to actually meet people’s needs, as people themselves see them.

(This story is mostly true. I have changed some elements to make it totally anonymous.)

(photo credit: KayVee.Inc)
Chosen because I suspect those are Gulia’s dream boots.