SUDBURY -- The United Way Centraide North East Ontario has created an initiative called Soles United that's designed to help the homeless and groups that help the homeless.

It involves giving those agencies a chance to provide new summer footwear to their clients.

Officials with United Way said Soles United is necessary to help people who need shoes during the pandemic.

"It was really important that we worked with our community organizations who were providing supports for homeless in order to provide the individuals who needed our support and then to access funds that were available throughout our community response fund in order to purchase shoes," said Mary Lou Hussak, executive director with United Way Centraid North East Ontario.

Hussak said 359 pairs of shoes have been purchased and handed out locally.

"We worked with a number of local agencies to identify individuals who needed the shoes and then we worked with them to get the shoes to them and they distributed out that way," said Hussak.

One of the agencies receiving shoes was the Sudbury Action Centre for Youth. So far, 40 pairs have been handed out to clients, and staff said many of them were thrilled to have new shoes they can call their own.

"For a lot of folks, it’s so rare in life that they get those opportunities, it’s so rare that they get something that’s just theirs," said Joel Boivin, with Sudbury Action Centre for Youth.

"(It's) something that they know is theirs, that they can take care of, that’s worth taking care of right from the start, and that really has an impact on just their day-to-day (lives)."

The United Way said it couldn’t have launched the program without help from its donors. The plan is to make Souls United an annual initiative.