Monday, March 02, 2009

Stanwood (WA) Woman Gathers Good Soles for Poor Souls

[By Gale Fiege, Writer for The Daily Herald, Everett Washington]

STANWOOD -- As a young woman, Susanna "Z" Mantis had a corporate consulting career. She wore black Armani suits with colorful high heels that matched her ever-changing fingernail polish.

"I had at least 60 pairs of shoes, all carefully kept in their boxes," Mantis said. "I could have been another Imelda Marcos."

Fortunately, Mantis is not Marcos, who, as the wife of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was infamous for her extensive shoe collection. Instead Mantis, now a 55-year-old Stanwood businesswoman, is collecting shoes for an organization called Soles4Souls, which distributes shoes in the United States and abroad to those who have nothing on their feet.

"There are 30 million people worldwide without shoes and most of them are kids," Mantis said.

As soon as she had registered online to run a shoe drive for the nonprofit group, Mantis got a donation of six pairs from an Oak Harbor family. This surprised Mantis, who quickly realized she had hit on something people could do to help others.

"Everybody's got a nice pair of shoes in the closet that isn't being worn," she said. "And people evidently need something positive to do in these last weeks of winter."

Mantis decided to declare February as Global Shoe Month in Stanwood and set a goal to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes.

With the help of her artist husband, R. Allen Jensen, she erected a shoe-drive thermometer outside her shop, Z's All Things Good in downtown Stanwood. They decorated the entrance to the shop with lots of old footwear -- saddle shoes, cowboy boots and patent-leather flats -- in walking positions and headed to the donation box on the shop's porch.

Mantis soon began receiving donations of 20 to 50 pairs of shoes a day.

"It was unbelievable. What a trip. We had little old ladies bringing in two at a time. Men in wheelchairs carried shoes in their teeth," she said. "Then there was a group of siblings who didn't believe their mom when she told them there are children without shoes. I showed them some photos and they handed their extra shoes right over."

Stanwood Elementary School teacher Kathy Tredo joined the effort, telling her fifth-graders a story about a brother and sister in India who had to share a pair of shoes. Soon her colleagues and their students all were donating shoes.

"Susanna is doing a great thing. She's caring and passionate, and people have really caught the bug from her," Tredo said.

Mantis, who grew up in a Greek-Italian family, recalls feeling resentful when her father would hire people right out of jail to work in his restaurant and then invite them to Christmas. Those holidays sowed the seeds of caring for others, however, she said. After suffering an injury after running a couple marathons, Mantis took off her high heels and changed her career to focus on caring for people dealing with pain.

For more than 10 years she has produced essential oils as alternative remedies for aches, practiced foot reflexology and taught yoga. Mantis opened Z's a couple years ago and immediately began looking for a big community service project to lead.

As the shoe drive went on during February, boxes and boxes of shoes began taking over the yoga room at the shop. They filled the trunk of Mantis' car and a storage room. She asked the crew at a nearby Starbucks store to take down a donation box she had set up there.

When the number of shoes donated reached 1,200 pairs on Tuesday, Mantis had to limit people to donations of children's shoes or the financial help to get the shoes shipped off to Soles4Souls.

"People have been so generous," Mantis said. "Every day when I come to work and see all the shoes, I am just in tears. How could you not be?"

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or

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