For more than 80 years, the Two Ten Footwear Foundation has adhered to an ambitious mission to help all members of the shoe industry who are in need. From preventing evictions to keeping the lights on, the charitable organization has played a protective role for footwear families in crisis. As the state of the industry continues to be in flux, the need for Two Ten’s assistance is greater than ever.
“Our current caseload through the first four months of our fiscal year is running double of this time a year ago,” said Two Ten’s interim president, David DiPasquale. The longtime board member took the reins in July after president Neal Newman exited his post after eight years.
DiPasquale added, “The focus at the moment is our core program: emergency relief for the working poor in our industry. Our outreach efforts have been effective; [however], the number of stores closing and the consolidation of distribution centers have put a stress on our capabilities to respond.”
Even without counting the burden of unexpected natural disasters, Two Ten will spend nearly $3 million in direct relief assistance this year.
To meet those monetary needs, resources, funding and industry involvement are crucial to ensure the nonprofit can not only provide emergency financial assistance, but also foster programs such as Women in the Footwear Industry (WIFI) and its educational scholarships.
“Though more goes to the urgencies of emergency relief, our scholarship program will lose vitality without further funding,” explained DiPasquale. “We spend $1 million on scholarship grants annually. It is not enough to satisfy the demand, and the needs of the applicants are great.”
As an industry-led organization, Two Ten has long benefited from support from footwear’s leaders, who have played a key role in not only raising money but also awareness. And as the foundation celebrates 80 years, many are looking back at Two Ten’s significance.
Debbie Ferrée, president and vice chairman of Designer Brands and Two Ten’s vice chair, told FN, “There’s no other industry that has a nonprofit that actually and effectively concentrates on its own. We really do help people get back on their feet. It oftentimes is the last lifeline that individuals have before they can’t put food on their table, they can’t pay their mortgage, they can’t pay their bills. So the way I look at Two Ten is not as a business transaction but as a connection to those in our community who have met desperation and need help greatly.”
Next month, following the annual fundraising gala on Dec. 4, Ferrée will take over the chair position of Two Ten from Greg Tunney, president of Hush Puppies.
Here, both Tunney and Ferrée open up about the future of the foundation and how the industry plays a foremost role in its success.
In your upcoming role as chair, what are your initial goals?
Debbie Ferrée: “First, we hope that we have a new [permanent] president by the end of January. And when I think about how I can be effective in this new role, it’s going to be by onboarding this new president, helping him or her to develop relationships, make introductions to key leaders and show them the ropes of Two Ten. It is from those strong relationships that we have in the industry that we get an effective donation campaign, and that’s throughout the year, not just for the gala.”
How important has Two Ten been for the industry and what is its role today?
Greg Tunney: “As the industry goes through constant change, upheaval and consolidation, the need is greater than ever, with thousands of people and families in need. Two Ten started during the Depression, where members of the footwear industry passed the hat to collect money to help a fellow member. That is what Two Ten is all about. Years past, there have been different things we’ve been involved in, but at the end of the day, you’ll start seeing Two Ten focus more on what the original founders started it for. It’s not a social networking club; it’s to provide emergency relief for people who need it in the industry.”
When it comes to raising money, what are your biggest challenges?
GT: “We have to do a better job of making sure that the individuals who have benefited so much from this industry are donating to Two Ten. That has been a tough challenge. We have people like Bobby Campbell, who is absolutely remarkable, and somebody like Steve Madden, [who also donates], but we have millionaires and billionaires who have not. Quite frankly, we don’t want to go after the poor of the shoe industry. We are asking people who have really done well and benefited to give back.”
What has your journey been like in Two Ten?
DF: “I was introduced to Two Ten in the 1980s, when I first got into footwear because some of the vendors that I used to buy from were deeply engaged. It sparked an interest in me. I was then asked to join and I sat as a board member for many years and then I was chair of the scholarship committee, which I was very passionate about because I believe that it all starts with education and we need to get everyone educated so that they continue to be productive citizens. Two years ago, Greg asked me to be his vice chair and we’ve been tremendous partners working very closely together since and [are focused] on continuing our mission.”
GT: “I was fortunate to get involved 20 years ago. I was exposed to the people whose lives we positively affected. It’s emotional. I was CEO of RG Barry and my assistant’s husband suddenly died. Unfortunately, they had nothing. She came to me and said, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to bury my husband.’ I put her in contact with Two Ten. I was just a board member, but within 24 hours she had the money. Those are the stories you don’t hear. We go to the gala and celebrate, but to me, that’s the real story. [The question is] how do we get that across? We save lives and families. That’s why I got involved.”
What does the future look like for the organization?
DF: “We need to engage the entire footwear community to donate, and I’d like Two Ten to be what I call the ‘St. Jude’s of the footwear industry.’ I want the passion to help our fellow footwear associates who are struggling to be so powerful that a flow of donations and revenue come in constantly. Because, like I said, it’s not a transaction; it really is giving from the heart.”
GT: “We have a jewel of an organization with an endowment of $35 million, so we have a solid foundation to address the challenges of today and the future. But the way it’s going to be successful is for major companies, such as a Caleres, Wolverine Worldwide, Titan — these are the companies where the leadership has to develop the next generation. There was an absolute expectation and an accountability to get involved [when I started]. In today’s society, I think people don’t want to put on too much burden. But we have to make sure that people realize there is a responsibility. Two Ten has been successful for 80 years, and we want to make sure it’s successful for 80 more.”
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