July 6, 2016
I’ve started writing about this topic a dozen times, trying to tie it into a recent story, of which there are many, from our team, our partners and our travelers about the power of a pair of shoes. But I think it’s time to just say it as it is: Donating gently worn used shoes is one of the few times you can actually be an alchemist… someone who changes something most people see as not valuable into something of immense worth. Five hundred years ago, alchemists were trying to turn lead into gold. You can do the same thing today by turning your used shoes into food, housing, education and health care. Some might say, I would be one of them, and that those things are all more valuable than gold. Here’s the best part – it’s totally in your power to make that happen right now.
You’re next question is probably, how? How do you take used shoes and transform them into such powerful things in some of poorest parts of the world? The answer is both pretty simple and surprisingly complex. The simple part is that even in the least developed places in the world, people need shoes to protect themselves from injury, to go to school, to get to work and for the sheer dignity of it.
That last part is hard to explain. But when I saw a kid in Haiti wearing these, I realized his only reason for wearing such a pair is to have them, not for any other reason.
In places where the majority of the population lives on less than a few dollars a day, they will and do find money for shoes. Often it’s used shoes they buy from local vendors and entrepreneurs. Those micro enterprises have several huge hurdles, but the biggest one is access to quality used shoes at a good price. The supply chain without Soles4Souls is savage and usually means they get the worst shoes at the highest prices. But when you donate your used shoes to Soles4Souls, we get them in the hands of mothers who sell them and buy an extra meal, put a roof over their kids’ heads, send them to school or manage a doctor visit because now they have cash. Lives change because of those shoes and we hear about it every day. It’s not life and death but some days it’s closer to that than many of us imagine.
The complex part is in how your donated shoes get from your closet to the open markets in Haiti, Honduras, the Philippines or Moldova, for example. Your shoes might go from your closet to a retail collection partner like Stride Rite or Brighton Collectibles. They then get shipped to a local warehouse in a dozen cities across the US. When those warehouses get full, they go to our main warehouse (by truck and by rail) in Alabama where they are sorted and repacked for shipping outside the US. Then they’re shipped to a port city like Savannah or Miami where they’re put onto boats. Then comes the complicated, expensive process of getting them through customs before our local partner picks them up to then sell to the local entrepreneurs. Alchemy is powerful… but it sure isn’t easy!
The bottom line is that each and everyone of us, me included, has shoes that don’t fit or that we simply don’t wear. We look at them every time we open the closet or we rediscover them when we move or sort through them when someone dies. But if the average American has more than 25 pairs of shoes, then your closet, my closet, is full of gold. Full of food, shelter, education and medical care. Take a few minutes to pull out a pair, or 20, and donate them today. Then very soon, a mother in a country far from here is going to sell them and start making life better for her family that very day. That’s the power each of us has to change a life for good.