Help Before Disaster Strikes

September 5, 2018

Before Soles4Souls officially came into existence, we were responding to natural disasters. After seeing dramatic images following the earthquakes and tsunamis in south Asia the day after Christmas 2004, the S4S founder-to-be knew he could help. Together with the footwear industry, and the help of two men who became founding board members, they delivered several hundred thousand pairs of shoes to Indonesia, India and Thailand among other countries. Almost as many as people who lost their lives in the aftermath of a mind-boggling catastrophe.

It was only eight months later, August 2005, that Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast of the U.S., especially Mississippi and Louisiana. More than three million people were without electricity. More than 1,000 people were killed by the storm. Again, this same group swung into action, collecting nearly 750,000 pairs of new shoes for those in need.

It was a few months later, in February 2006, that Soles4Souls officially came into existence. And while our mission has expanded to include job creating programs around the world and, increasingly, a significant focus on apparel, disaster relief has remained central our mission.

Then in 2010, another unimaginable natural disaster struck, this time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The devastation was almost beyond comprehension, with upwards of 250,000 killed (no one will ever know for sure) and millions homeless and injured. The response to Soles4Souls was overwhelming and we delivered millions of pairs of shoes to those in need.

And though our disaster response effort has remained strong since then, (Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Super Storm Sandy are two that come to mind), last year saw the greatest demand for this kind of effort since 2010. Three hurricanes (Harvey, Irma and Maria) within 45 days put millions at risk. Though Puerto Rico fared the worst by far, and has received the least aid and resources of all kinds, especially from the U.S. government, Houston and much of Florida was underwater or flattened by 150+ mph winds. The scale was hard to grasp.

But thanks to a deep bench of committed partners, Soles4Souls was able to move more than 500,000 pieces of footwear, apparel, water, diapers and meal kits to those in need in all three locations. We have continued to provide desperately needed shoes and clothes. We have also helped generate economic activity in Puerto Rico by taking several groups there to volunteer.

Who knows what this year holds? We’re heading into what is usually the scariest part of the hurricane season. We’re trying to have more disaster response goods stored away, ready to respond even more quickly than last year. We have a 300,000-square foot warehouse in Alabama that gives us the ability to stage the most needed items like underwear, bras, socks, jeans, pants, skirts, dresses, pajamas, shirts and, of course, shoes.  You can help by donating this kind of inventory now so when the next storm, fire or flood hits, we’ll be there as soon as possible to help people get back on their feet, with dignity restored and ready to rebuild their communities and lives.

And money. Always money. Our biggest cost during natural disasters, aside from devoting significant human resources to the disaster work, is shipping. The cost of getting goods to our warehouse and then back out to the right places is substantial. Last year, we spent almost $200,000 over and above the donations we received to answer the call of those in the direst of straits in August and September.

I love our micro-enterprise work. Creating opportunities for people to pull themselves out of poverty is one of the most important things I’ve ever been a part of. But disaster relief is a close second. When people have been flooded out, when their houses have been erased by the wind or they return to nothing but smoldering ashes, we need to be there to help them. As soon as the first-responders are ready, we want to be on the spot with clothes and shoes that give them the basics to start moving forward again.

With your help, we can be ready to do that again in the months ahead, whatever may come. If you are interested in donating product for our disaster relief program, please contact CeCe McCormick, Soles4Souls Director of Corporate Engagement, cecem@soles4souls.org.

Buddy Teaster
CEO, Soles4Souls