For as long as Matt Upton can remember, whenever Oct. 10 rolls around he is always asked the same question.
“What do you want for your birthday, Matt?”
In his younger days it was easy to give an answer to gift ideas, but as he has gotten older the answer hasn’t come as easily. Now, with a few decades under his belt, Upton is more concerned about spending his birthday with the people he cares for rather than receiving gifts. Nevertheless, every year, Matt is asked the same question.
The struggle to find the perfect answer ended one day in January of this year when Matt’s mother-in-law retold him a story from her childhood. She had told Matt the story many times before but this time a light bulb went off.
“We were sitting in my mother-in-law’s living room and she said to me, ‘Matt have I ever told you why I have so many shoes?’” Upton said. “I said yes you have, and then she just went on to tell me the story as if she had never told me before.”
Once again she told the story of how she grew up in Texas and was allowed only one pair of shoes per year. The shoes were called “going to town-meeting shoes” and could only be worn when she went to church, school or going out, otherwise she had to walk around barefoot.
“I decided when I was a little girl that when I grew up I would have all the shoes I wanted. That’s why I have so many shoes,” she concluded with tears in her eyes.
Listening to the story from his mother-in-law for the umpteenth time, Matt heard its deeper meaning for the first time. Suddenly he realized what he wanted for his birthday. The greatest gift he could receive would be the satisfaction of giving away brand new shoes to people in crisis.
“I made a commitment to myself to give away 100 pairs of shoes between January to October of this year, but after awhile a hundred shoes didn’t sound challenging enough, so I thought I would do 250. But after awhile that didn’t sound big enough either. Then on Feb. 11, I whispered something to myself: ‘What if I gave away 1,001 shoes?’”
Suggesting if only to himself initially, the amount of 1,010, which signifies the month and date of his birthday, his heart began to race.
“It sort of took my breath away” he recalls.
That same afternoon on Feb. 11, Matt went online and posted his 1010 Shoe Project idea as a calendar event and immediately began promoting it.
“Everywhere I went, I talked about it and people became really excited,” Upton said They started giving money, buying shoes, finding great deals and before I knew it, I had 600 pairs of brand new shoes.”
As a professional speaker on topics benefiting people in the workplace, Upton often holds workshops at various California school districts, including Manteca Unified. To his delight, it is through these school districts that Matt has found overwhelming support.
“Approximately 80 percent of the money donated has been given out of the wallets of school lunch ladies” he shares.
One particular manager from a school district in the Riverside area who was so moved by Upton’s shoe project idea contacted her sister along with her staff and school custodian and together they collected 160 pairs of new shoes to donate to the project.
Upton had no idea just how much impact receiving a new pair of shoes could have until it was time to distribute them and he met a third grader named Willie at an elementary school in Sacramento.
“The teacher knew I was coming on a Friday to give away some shoes,” Upton said. “Willie had heard about it and came up to his teacher on Thursday and showed her his shoes. Two toes were sticking out. He told her, ‘It’s my best pair of shoes. Is there any way I can get a new pair?’
“The teacher called me to see what we could do. We looked through all of our shoes and if you can believe it, we did not have his size. So we went out and bought a pair just for him. They were black tennis shoes with bright green neon stripes with a net over it. The next day when Willie saw them he squealed. He was so ecstatic.
“He said, ‘Look Mr. Matt, I can jump high,’ but then he took the shoes off and handed them back and said, ‘I can’t take these because my mommy said I can’t have a brand new pair of shoes.’
“I got on the floor with him and told him he was the bravest third grader I had ever met. Because he wanted the shoes but was doing exactly what his mommy told him to do.”
Willie went back to class with his old shoes while Upton asked the front office to get a hold of Willie’s mom to ask if it would be alright for Willie to keep the new shoes.
“It took three hours to get a hold of her but when we did she said Willie could keep the shoes. When Willie came back, he put the shoes back on and squealed with delight, he ran around the room and before I knew it his arms were wrapped around me and he said, ‘Thank you Mr. Matt. For the rest of my life I will be able to jump higher and run faster, I never want to where those old shoes again.’”
Upton encouraged Willie to keep the old shoes for doing outside chores and also as a reminder what it was like to receive the new ones.
By the time Upton’s birthday rolled around this year he had gathered a total of 1,259 pairs of shoes to give away to families in crisis, most of which went to children and students in various schools, as well as homeless children, or children who had been taken away from their home for one reason or another.
As Upton’s original commitment of giving away 100 pairs shoes grew to over a thousand, so did the avenue in which he needed to distribute the shoes.
“We ended up choosing 12 different sites,” Upton said. “Two of the sites were public schools in rough neighborhoods. They were in great need so we gave away shoes to those two sites early on Oct. 9, but we gave away the rest of the shoes at the remaining 10 sites on Oct. 10 at 10 a.m.”
And with that, Upton’s birthday wish had come true. He assumed it would be a one-time thing and felt fortunate to have been a part of something so special but no sooner were the shoes that were collected in 2015 distributed, people began donating cash and new shoes for Upton to do it again in 2016.
Embracing a sincere passion to continue the good work he started, he is now reaching out to the community for support for this powerful mission.
“I don’t want people to clean out their closet for used shoes because people who are in crisis wear used shoes all the time,” Upton said. “ However, people can help by donating brand new shoes, money or even a gift card to Payless Shoe Store.”
Upton no longer has to struggle with the question, “What do you want for your birthday?” His answer is set, his vision clear. He wants to help families in crisis by giving the simple yet meaningful gift of new shoes.
With the mission in place Upton has given his shoe project idea a name more fitting for its purpose.
“I changed the name to 1010 Soles of Success because we are giving brand new souls to children.”
To learn more about how you can support 1010 Soles of Success, visit Matt Upton’s website at www.mattupton.net or call 916.708.8103.