How many pairs of shoes do own that you don’t wear anymore, or don’t fit?  Chances are you may have a few pair – possibly even more.

Now, think for a minute.  What do you do with those shoes?  Do you throw them in the trash?  Donate or recycle them?  Pass them along to friends and family?  Do nothing?  Maybe a combination of these.

soles4soulsNow, wrap your head around collecting over 19 million pairs of shoes and distributing them to people in 127 countries. Nashville-based Soles4Souls has done just that.

Backed by a mission for charity, the global non-for-profit was created in 2004 in response to the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.  Just three years later, Soles4Souls found itself responding to those affected by Hurricane Katrina.  Soles4Souls continues to respond to natural disasters around the world as they occur.

The organization is aiming to distribute even more in the coming years.

“There is a huge need for these shoes around the world,” says Buddy Teaster, Soles4Souls Chief Executive Officer.  “Even if our supply of donated shoes increased, that supply would essentially be gone instantly.  The need is that great,” he adds.

Soles4Souls accepts and distributes both used and new shoes around the world.  While shoes remain a primary focus, the organization also collects apparel.

honduras2013soles4soulsOverall, new shoes are distributed to those in need across the globe.  These shoes are typically overruns or shoes that did not meet quality standards of manufacturers.  Used shoes are collected and sent to one of Soles4Souls various warehouses across the United States.  From there, shoes are graded based on their wear and then distributed to those in need via Souls4Souls’ micro-enterprise program.

A substantial part of how the organization fights poverty around the world, micro-enterprise describes an approach toward helping the poor and their communities by providing sustainable jobs to impoverished people through the creation of ultra-small (micro) businesses.

Supported by hundreds of governments, business leaders, not-for-profits, NGOs, researchers and social change advocates, micro-enterprise has by all measures become a global movement.  Soles4Souls’ micro-enterprise embodies the philosophy, “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; give him a way to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.”

And, their commitment to disaster relief continues to be a primary focus of the organization alongside an increasing emphasis on environmental responsibility.

According to information on the organization’s website, Americans discarded more than 700 thousand tons of footwear and apparel last year alone. When these items break down in our landfills, which can take many years, the toxic chemicals from the materials can leak into our soil, water supply, and atmosphere.  By donating your unwanted shoes (versus throwing them in the trash), you are not only helping others in need but are also making a more environmentally friendly choice.

“We are turning what some would consider trash into treasure,” says Teaster. “We’re committed to not putting these shoes back into the ground and we want to make a bigger dent in ensuring that shoes don’t just get thrown away by a single user,” adds Teaster.

The organization relies in large part to grass roots collection drives and individual donations.  Schools, churches, associations, companies and individuals routinely donate and hold collection drives for Soles4Souls.

For example, Maggi Thorne of Lincoln, Nebraska spearheaded a city-wide shoe drive with a collection goal of 25,000 pairs of shoes.  Thorne is which even trying to break a Guinness record and filling up the Nebraska U basketball stadium with shoes.  Soles4Souls is also currently in partnership with the Maryland Bankers Association which will use its hundreds of bank branch members as shoe collection sites. Community, community, community.

“Our three year goal is to double our impact (i.e. number of shoes collected),” states Teaster. “We could help more people around the world if we had more shoes donated.”

By meeting its collection goals, not only with Soles4Souls ‘wear out poverty’ it will also help the planet too. To learn more about how you can help, visit

Images courtesy of Soles4Souls

By Chase Ezell

Chase has served in various public relations, communications and sustainability roles. He is a former managing editor for