The Gift of Shoes

So, how many pair of shoes do you have? Stop what you are doing, go to your closet, and count them. I know this sounds like a random question, but hang with me. It’s important.

a shelf full of shoes

When I went through this exercise yesterday, I counted fourteen pair, including two pair of golf shoes. Worse, I had just said to Gail before church, “I need to buy another pair of casual shoes to wear with my jeans.” (Before you judge me too harshly, count the shoes in your own closet.)So why is this important? Did you know that half the people in the world do not own a single pair of shoes. This includes 300 million children. They are forced to walk around barefoot, often in unsafe—even life-threatening—situations. Many of these are children.

Can you imagine what it must be like to go barefoot, not by choice, but because you don’t have any other option? When I was in Ethiopia a few weeks ago, I saw this first hand. People walking barefoot for miles just to get water. It was heart-breaking.

The truth is, I don’t need another pair of shoes. I may want another pair of shoes, but I don’t need them. They aren’t a necessity for me; they are a fashion accessory.

But for millions of people, shoes are an unaffordable luxury.

In 2004, Wayne Elsey, a shoe company executive decided to do something about the problem. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia, Wayne was home one night watching the reports on TV. Like many of us, he wondered what he could do to help.

Then he saw a picture of a single shoe washing up on the beach. That triggered a few calls to some other executives in the footwear industry and the subsequent donation of a quarter of a million shoes to victims in the devastated countries.

A year later when Katrina hit, Wayne called the same group of friends, and they sent over a million pairs of shoes down to the gulf coast communities affected by the hurricane. He admits now that he did not expect such an immediate and generous response. This left him wondering, why not start a non-profit and do this all the time? One year later, he founded Soles4Souls. It’s simple mission? “To impact as many lives as possible with the gift of shoes.”

Since that time, Soles4Souls™ has distributed more than five million pairs (currently donating one pair every 13 seconds) to people in over 125 countries, including Honduras, Uganda, Romania, and the United States. The charity has been featured recently in Runner’s World and National Geographic, as well as CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX, and CBS. Best of all, they operate on just 2% overhead. This means 98 cents out of every dollar they raise is actually given to those in need.

This week, the charity kicks off it’s second annual Barefoot Media Week. It is challenging members of the media to go barefoot for at least four consecutive hours in public this week and report on their experience.

Various celebrities are lending their support to Barefoot Week in hopes of encouraging more participation with Soles4Souls. Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Simpson, Amy Grant, Jeff Fischer and many, many other celebrities are lending their support. About 55% of the shoes donated during this week will be distributed to needy people here in America.

What can you do? Here are three possibilities.

  1. Make a financial contribution. For just $5.00, you can give two pair of shoes to someone in need. All you need to do is click here to get started. It takes less than two minutes.
  2. Donate your unused shoes. You can take your shoes to a Finish Line Store in your city or town. (There are more than 3,000 locations.) You will receive a $5.00 coupon toward a purchase. Believe it or not, there are 1.5 billion pairs of unused shoes sitting in American closets.
  3. Host a shoe drive. This is a fun and painless way to help a lot of people without a lot of effort. You can find a step-by-step plan by clicking here

Please help Soles4Souls “change the world one pair at a time.”

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