Though her daily life sees her helming a successful West Palm Beach advertising and marketing agency, Rita Lombardo is no stranger to community service, having taken her place on multiple local non-profit boards and helped with fundraising for causes across the board. But it was the 2011 earthquake in Haiti that spurred her to create her own organization after the Delray resident found herself wanting to do more than just write a check. “I found a flight online and purchased 300 pairs of new shoes,” says Lombardo. “Upon arriving in Haiti, I traveled to a orphanage and gave away the shoes to all the children in need. In returning to Florida, I realized how great a need for shoes is.” SHUZZ was born.
SHUZZ (pronounced “shoes”) is a non-profit dedicated to providing shoes to children in poverty-stricken areas around the world. The organization distributes thousands of shoes free of charge to children – regardless of race, religion, class or any other criteria. They partner with other organizations around the world to assess areas of need and choose countries where they find scarcity and poverty of basic needs of survival. Past donations have gone to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala, Africa and the United States, among others. “SHUZZ has grown immensely over the past seven years, with hundreds of volunteers, strong community partnerships and donors and the support of so many individuals around the globe,” says Lombardo. “I’m most proud of hitting our milestone of giving over 100,000+ pairs of new shoes to children in need both here in the U.S. and internationally.”
Because of their dedication to donating 100 percent of funds to their programs (which include a back to school effort, medical outreach for healthy feet and youth athletic shoes) they depend entirely on volunteers to run their efforts, meaning there are endless opportunities to get involved according to Lombardo. “Volunteers are an important part of our mission,” she says. “Opportunities are available throughout the year; from helping out in the office, to event planning, the Back-2-School Program, Youth Athletic Program, and International Shoe Distribution Trips. [On these trips] volunteers can be hands-on, giving new shoes to children in low-income, poverty-stricken areas around the world.”
“SHUZZ goal is to continue to grow and build more relationships with people that have a passion to help others,” says Lombardo of the organization’s future. “We are on track to hit our next milestone of giving away more than 200,000 pairs of new shoes.” They’re also gearing up for their annual fashion show this September at the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. The event will feature a 40-ft. red-carpet for all guests, a cocktail party and VIP reception sponsored by Celebrity Cruises, Silent & Live Auctions, followed by the SHUZZ signature fashion show from designer Gomez-Gracia wearing Jimmy Choo.