Exactly 603 pairs of shoes mark a life lost to the opioid crisis in Alberta in 2019.
The shoes were collected by members of the group Mom's Stop the Harm (MSTH). The group describes themselves as "a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use related harms and deaths."
The shoes will be laid out in a space in Victoria Park on Monday to mark International Opioid Awareness Day (IOAD).
Petra Schulz co-founded the group after her son Danny died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2014. She found strength in connecting with other moms who shared similar experiences and realized the need for ongoing support.
"Often we are quite isolated and alone in our grief," Schulz said. "So getting together with others who are in the same situation, who understand, it's really healing and it helps us reconcile with our grief."
The group Moms Stop the Harm was established officially in 2016.
Now they have connected more than 1,500 families across Canada, with about 350 families living in Alberta. According to Schulz, that connection is key.
Some of the shoes that will be a part of the Empty Shoes for Overdose Awareness event have been collected from families who lost a loved one in 2019. Others were collected at local businesses which Schulz said allowed for even more awareness.
"People asked questions, other employees or customers talked about it," she said. So it gives us an opportunity to educate people and to reduce stigma. To talk about our children, talk about the situation we have in this country and what needs to happen."
Schulz said that they collected over 1,000 shoes in the end. All the shoes that are in good condition will be donated to community organizations after the event.
Last year Schulz said about 300 people attended their awareness event, gathering together this year though isn't an option due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The High Level bridge will be lit up with purple lights Monday night to mark the date and MSTH has sent purple ribbons to Alberta MLA's encouraging them to show their support.
According to Schulz the advocacy work the group does around policy feels even more important this year.
The Lethbridge supervised consumption site is scheduled to shut its doors on IOAD due to a $1.6 million funding shortfall.
"To me, as a mom who has lost a child, to take away an evidence-based service that keeps people alive is just absolutely heartbreaking."
The latest report from Alberta Health shows from January to March nearly 2,500 people accessed supervised consumption sites every month around Alberta and that more than 1,100 "adverse events" were attended to.
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, Jason Luan, released a statement to mark the day.
"Each of these deaths represents a member of our community – someone who was loved and deserving of compassion and support. Today is a day to remember and grieve – and also a time to act. We can each do our part to raise awareness that overdose is preventable and recovery from addiction is possible," Luan said.