Souls in need: Soles4Souls helps shoeless kids
There are an astonishing 300 million kids who have never owned a pair of shoes. These children are the impetus behind Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that, every seven seconds, manages to reach one more shoeless child with a pair of his or her very own footwear.
Their mission is a simple one: to impact as many lives with the gift of shoes as possible. Next time you go to your shoe closet, keep them in mind. Since its inception, the Nashville-based organization has handed out more than 13 million pairs to children across 125 countries. In addition, the group just donated 50,000 pairs to individuals impacted by the recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“(We are) really giving people hope for a new day and the ability to lift their eyes up and look what’s ahead of them instead of what’s directly under their feet,” Keith Woodley, chief development officer at Soles4Souls, said.
The consequences of no shoes go far beyond hobbled feet. Children can contract diseases through their feet, such as hookworm, or get infections. Perhaps even worse, those without shoes are, in many countries, prohibited from attending school. Some families are forced to take one pair and share them among their children, switching off for each child to attend school for one day.
“Education is so vital, and something we really take for granted,” Woodley said. “Kids grow up in the U.S., and they know they are going to go to school (and) it’s going to be available to them. And imagine they’re being told they can’t go to school because they don’t have shoes.”
Woodley points to the high number of shoes thrown away in landfills, combined with the estimated billion and a half pairs of shoes sitting idle in closets in the United States.
“That’s also pretty close to the estimated number of people out there without footwear in the world,” Woodley said. “So the irony is pretty obvious.”
Not only could a life be transformed, the environment also benefits when a pair of shoes is recycled. Many donated pairs would have been thrown in the trash.
The idea for Soles4Souls hit founder Wayne Elsey while he was watching television news on the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004. He was struck by the end of the piece, when a shoe washed up on the beach. That night, he struggled to fall asleep.
He woke up determined to make a difference. So he made some calls, and, in a short amount of time, amassed 250,000 pairs of shoes. A year later, after Katrina, Elsey again rounded up his contacts. This time, the total came to 1 million pairs. Hungry to continue his quest, he formed Soles4Souls shortly after.
Elsey explains his drive: “Every day I see the impact that shoes can make, which motivates me to get more plugged in and to do more.”
The shoes are procured from one-third each the footwear industry, wholesale manufactures and private entities such as schools and churches – and you—with drives, shoe-trade-ins and more all bringing in the goods.
The shoes are not just for kids. Woodley talked of donating to homeless shelters, with homeless individuals coming in during winter, their shoes almost worn through.
“Clearly their feet are cold, and you give them a nice pair of boots and it’s sad to think that they are going right out onto the streets,” Woodley said, “but at least we’ve helped them in some small way by providing a warm pair of shoes.”
As Woodley noted, shoes can often be something those more fortunate take for granted. “You don’t really realize when you go to your closet and you say, ‘You know, I’ve got 20 pairs of shoes and you know what, I really only wear three of these,’” Woodley said.
He recalls a story of a group that, while working in Haiti, encountered a young girl who had apparently fallen in love with the shoes a volunteer was wearing. So the volunteer took them off and handed them to her.
“She said she couldn’t leave without giving her those shoes because ... the idea that I can get another pair of these, she can’t,” Woodley said.
The organization’s next move is to clothe the whole body from head to toe: It is launching a clothing division, Clothes4Souls.
Those interested in helping – volunteering, conducting a shoe drive, cleaning out that closet for donations, etc. – can visit the website at www.soles4souls.org. For just one dollar, you can provide a pair of shoes for a child in need.