Americans throw away approximately 760,000 tons of shoes and clothing each year, according to the U.S. EPA.
But Nashville-based nonprofit Soles4Souls wants to find a second life for unwanted footwear, distributing 17 million pairs of shoes to people in need in over 127 countries since 2005.
Soles4Souls collects all types of shoes – sandals, sneakers and boots – in any age range, from children’s to adult sizes. New and gently worn shoes are refurbished and delivered to low-income school districts and domestic violence and homeless shelters in the U.S., as well as shipped overseas to countries like Honduras, Costa Rica, Tanzania and India.
The charity also benefits survivors of natural disasters, supplying 1.3 million pairs of shoes to Haitians after the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010.
The secondhand shoes not only provide protection against parasitic diseases in countries with poor sanitation, but they also give children access to an education, as footwear is an attendance requirement at many schools.
Older shoes that can’t be used in their current condition are allocated to Soles4Souls’ micro-enterprise program, which helps impoverished people in developing countries earn money to support their families. Participants in the micro-enterprise program receive the unwanted footwear and clean and repair them for re-sale or harvest the shoe’s materials to make other products to sell.
How to get involved
Soles4Souls recently kicked off a statewide shoe collection campaign in Georgia, partnering with local organizations and businesses including Keep Georgia Beautiful, Georgia Recycling Coalition, Whole Foods, Georgia Department of Community Affairs and 1-800-Got-Junk?. Launched March 15, the “Turn Up The Sole” initiative aims to collect 100,000 pairs of unwanted shoes through May 15, coinciding with Earth Day and Keep Georgia Beautiful’s Great American Cleanup events in April.
Georgians can sign up online to gather shoes for the campaign: at their offices or in their neighborhoods and schools. For example, the Center for Disease Control’s Atlanta office is holding an internal shoe collection drive for their 8,000 employees, says Elizabeth Kirk, Soles4Souls’ director of communications.
If you don’t want to organize your own collection campaign but still want to donate shoes, visit the Turn Up The Sole website to find the closest drop-off location. No collection site near you? The nonprofit’s campaign partner, 1-800-Got-Junk?, has volunteered to offer a special “valet service” through May 15 and will come to you to pick up donations, Kirk says.
After 1-800-Got-Junk? amasses the collected shoes at one central location, another Turn Up The Sole partner, Whole Foods, will haul the footwear to Soles4Souls’ warehouse in central Alabama, where shoes will be sorted and prepared for distribution.
Kirk says that the nonprofit is grateful for both companies’ participation, which is helping the collection drive reach remote areas, particularly in the southwestern corner of the state.
“They are making the rest of Georgia much more accessible for the campaign,” she says.
If you live outside of Georgia, there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved with Soles4Souls.
You can also organize your own shoe collection campaign at your school or office, following Soles4Soul’s guide to hosting a shoe drive, perhaps in time for Earth Day, Great American Cleanup Day or America Recycles Day on Nov. 15.
“I had an eight-year-old girl sign up today to collect shoes instead of birthday presents [at her birthday party],” says Nicole Langford with Soles4Souls’ donor services.
Or contact your state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful to volunteer for a statewide shoe collection campaign, like the one currently under way in Georgia, Langford suggests. Soles4Souls is presently working with Keep America Beautiful affiliates in Texas, Nevada and Alabama to launch statewide shoe drives this fall, she says.
Homepage image: Soles4Souls