Next time when cleaning out a closet and purging shoes and clothing, instead of throwing them out, donate them and change people’s lives for the better. “Those items are valuable,” says Rod Arnold, chief marketing officer for Soles4Souls. “Those pairs of shoes can turn into a meal for a family. They can turn into a brick that people can use to build their houses. They literally turn into income and help sustain people.”
How does this magic happen? Since 2006, the nonprofit has been collecting new and used shoes and clothing to help people both locally and around the world. “We like to say that we turn shoes and clothing into opportunity, and that really comes down to a couple things,” he says. “It's providing relief to people in need and it's helping people fight poverty.”
Soles4Souls distributes new shoes and clothing to local people experiencing hardships and homelessness, and used shoes and clothing overseas to support entrepreneurship in impoverished countries. “Our new shoes and clothing come from an amazing group of brand partners, corporate partners, and retailers who donate some of their inventory.” Used shoes and clothing, he says, are mostly acquired from individuals, church groups, and other civic groups. They also have a partnership with DSW stores as a shoe drop-off site. “We collect millions of pairs of shoes every year that way,” he says.
Rod recently returned from Honduras where he and his team interviewed people who are taking these used items and reselling them to create jobs and provide income. “We went down to visit with and document the stories of the entrepreneurs and the employees who are impacted by the used shoes that people donate,” he says. “There is so much poverty there and people really struggle to find work. We got to hear about how selling these shoes has transformed their ability to live and provide a stable life for their families.” These videos are then shared on their website.
There are around 10 thrift stores in Honduras, he explains, that employ six to seven people each, and then there are people who are individual entrepreneurs. They live in small villages and take a sack of shoes and sell those to make a living.
Adds Rod, “These people are working really hard and making their country better. Soles4Souls, with our partners, is really focused on giving people an opportunity for a better life.”
Items are also shipped to Guatemala, Haiti, Moldova, Africa, the Philippines and other places. “Right now we're also raising funds to ship over a million dollars’ worth of goods over to the Ukraine refugees,” he says.
“We really rely on our supporters,” says Rod. “We have a great group of donors who contribute on a regular basis. We also have business relationships with our nonprofit partners that help us pay for the costs of shipping and processing.” But, more help is always needed.
There are several ways to support Soles4Souls. You can make a donation on its website, hold a shoe drive, or donate your own shoes and clothing. People are also needed to sort and pack up the clothing at its warehouse and distribution facility in Nashville. “We distribute over 5 million pairs of shoes and 5 million pieces of clothing every year, so there's a lot to be done,” he says.
“We are so grateful to all our supporters. We're only able to do this work because of the thousands of people who are generous enough to donate their dollars and their used shoes and clothing.”