Changing the World, One Pair at a Time!

Following the tsunami in Southeast Asia, Soles4Soulsfounder and CEO Wayne Elseypushed footwear companies to donate their overstock to victims. He offered these enterprises a chance to clear their warehouses as well as the opportunity to provide shoes for lower income communities. In this case, a quarter of a million pairs were saved from landfills. The shoes helped survivors clear wreckage, repair homes, and rebuild schools.

A year later came Hurricane Katrina. Elsey rallied schools, organizations, and heads of the shoe industry with a clear message: dispose of excess. The response was overwhelming: over a million pairs helped victims stand up, lace up, and move on.

“Shoes are vital for health reasons. Viruses such as hookworms are a big cause of death. People also need shoes to feel better. Shoes let kids look forward to running, playing and having fun,” says Elsey.

Profits Save Lives
Following Hurricane Katrina, Elsey left as CEO of a shoe company to do something about the crisis. He imagined a group dedicated to raising awareness at home and promoting sustainable development for those in poverty. Soles4Souls launched a year later, and has supplied over 10 million pairs in over 125 countries. Like other distributors, Soles4Souls markets a specific image and seeks the best people to fill its office. On the other hand, the group has bigger shoes to fill.

“Every 15 seconds, a child is infected from some disease that can be prevented with proper shoes. We give away a pair every 9 seconds. You need to ask, what is the need out there?” asks Elsey.

Currently, Soles4Souls supplies shoes in Haiti to speed recovery of infrastructure.

Due to a lack of heavy equipment, locals sweep rubble by hand. They therefore need shoes to guard against sharp debris and foot-borne illnesses while clearing roads and burying casualties.

Organize a Shoe Drive
The success of these outreach programs rests on awareness campaigns at home. Soles4Souls seeks individual donations and hosts shoe drives to move the 1.5 billion shoes that line the closets of America. Any style, shape, or color helps people get back on their feet, from victims of natural disasters to those looking for work.

“What if every American donated a pair of shoes? It’s easy for the average Joe to host a shoe drive to put shoes on people and create a sustainable, long term difference in their lives,” notes Elsey.

Soles4Souls also sponsors individual fundraisers, which have raised over $2 million nationwide, or over 800,000 pairs. Earlier this month, the charity challenged the public to go barefoot during National Barefoot Week, which involved a series of drives, concerts, and festivals to encourage donations. During Barefoot Sunday, over 150,000 churches and congregations kicked off their shoes to support the 1.5 billion around the world without a pair.

Before breaking in a new pair of shoes, Elsey encourages taking a walk in someone else’s. Soles4Souls offers trips to outreach areas such as Haiti, Mexico, and Honduras, where team members close the gap between donor and recipient. Team members also witness how shoes transform recipients’ lives; for many, getting a new pair of shoes was like receiving a luxury car.

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