The super volunteer

Shirley Shaw’s life story reads like a bestselling novel – from the highs of building a business with 20 stores and 300 employees to the lows of struggling as an immigrant single mom. When Shirley arrived in Vancouver in 1997, she had a comfortable life with a large house. However, she lost everything when her business in China went bankrupt. Shirley returned to Vancouver in 2002 with “no money, no career direction, no place to live, no social support, and 2 children, aged 6 and 10, who needed my care.” After analyzing multiple possibilities, Shirley visited Yangzhou, China, to learn foot massage and pedicure techniques and was inspired to start her business Big Feet. Despite facing unimaginable difficulties, Shirley was never discouraged – motivated by what she refers to as the strength of being “a mother.”

Soft-spoken in real life, Shirley’s quiet strength seeded from hardship motivates her to wholeheartedly support the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS). If volunteering were a superpower, Shirley would be the Superwoman of volunteers. Shirley has gathered hundreds of colleagues over the years to help children with cancer at CCS’s Camp Goodtimes, to race at CCS Vancouver’s Run for the Cure and many Big Feet stores have brightly decorated CCS donation boxes for visitors to make their own contributions. Shirley has also been known to have private chats with some of her franchisees, persuading them to help CCS in whatever way they can. She even goes as far as to say, “All of us (Big Feet staff) wish there were more opportunities to volunteer.”

A smiling lady with cropped hair sitting in a photo studio. She wears a white jacket.
 Shirley Shaw

When questioned about what drives Shirley to support CCS with such zeal, she shares the story about her cherished employee, “She (the employee) suffered from breast cancer. I followed all her medical processes and really felt the doctors, examiners, nurses and everyone was so supportive. There was no chaos; there was warm strength and support everywhere.” This led Shirley to think about how she could assist other cancer patients in finding the “warm strength” they needed – especially families with challenging financial situations. Finally, when asked if there are any mottos she lives by, Shirley smiles and quotes one of her favourite Chinese idioms, “Saving a life is more meritorious than building a 7-floor pagoda.”