LOUISVILLE - Walking a mile in Richard Hudgins shoes can be a painful experience in one of the harshest Southern winters in years.
That's because he's not wearing any.
Hudgins, a hair stylist, has stripped off his shoes and socks and is going barefoot for a full year to raise money for shoeless children a world away.
He has gone barefoot to work, to drop his daughter off at school, to shop and even to exercise at the gym. Shoeless since early December, he has nearly made it through a brutal Kentucky winter that featured several days of snow, ice and single-digit temperatures.
"You really do build a tolerance up," Hudgins said while walking on snow on a recent day near his job near Louisville. "The ice isn't so bad; it's the snow, because the snow gets on the top of my feet."
Hudgins wants to raise $25,000 in donations by year's end and then take the money to Narok, Kenya, where children need uniforms and shoes to go to school. So far he has raised nearly $4,000.
If Hudgins reaches his goal, it would buy durable shoes for more than 800 kids, said Elijah Ombati, a missionary from Kenya who has struck up a friendship with Hudgins. Ombati, who runs a Christian group called Nasha Ministries International and splits his time between Africa and Louisville, said many of the needy children are orphans and don't have $20 or $30 for shoes. Ombati said shoes are necessary at schools for good hygiene and to protect the feet of children who walk far distances.
"The need is high, and the need is growing day by day," Ombati said. "Those who are from middle class families, they have (shoes), but those who are poor, maybe a friend gave them shoes, or maybe they are still looking, or maybe the shoes are torn. Many of them are trying hard, and even some share shoes."
Hudgins isn't the first person to go barefoot for charity. The Charlotte, N.C.-based nonprofit Samaritan's Feet annually asks coaches, including University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, to shed their footwear to raise awareness and funds for shoeless children around the world. Hudgins said he got the bare feet idea from Toms shoe company after it challenged customers to go a day without shoes.
"I thought one day without shoes was a pretty cool idea, but I wanted to go big or go home, so I decided to do a year," Hudgins said.
The first day in early December was the hardest, and he even abandoned his barefoot workout at the gym and left when he saw the manager approaching.
"It was kind of humiliating, I didn't expect that at all," he said.
When he got home, he told his fiancee he couldn't go through with it. And then he saw that the website he set up had its first $5 donation.
"That really inspired me and I said I'm going to keep doing it, I'm going to keep going," Hudgins said.
He was allowed to use his gym after he explained what he was doing, and said he has since been surprised at how many businesses don't mind him walking in with no shoes. Hudgins says only one place, a sandwich shop, flatly refused to serve him.
"You'd be surprised how many places don't have those (no shoes) signs" Hudgins said.
Donors are also sending him boxes of brand new shoes, about 70 so far. Hudgins said he is planning to donate those to kids in Kentucky.