Since its inception in 2006, Soles4Souls has been using donated shoes to help those in need. Through its close partnerships with some of the leading companies in the footwear industry, the non-profit has distributed more than 53 million pairs of shoes, in 129 countries. Not only does this protect the feet of millions of people around the world, but it keeps shoes out of landfill in the process, reducing environmental waste.
Each year the organization provides meaningful change for its recipients, but this year has seen even greater disruption than normal. In addition to the health risks, the economic impact of COVID-19 has seen unemployment and homelessness rates rise, with children particularly vulnerable. Souls4Soles has responded to that need by launching “4EveryKid,” in collaboration with school districts around the country.
“For most kids, new school shoes are a given,” said Buddy Teaster, president and CEO at Soles4Souls. “A tradition, really. But for kids experiencing homelessness, nothing is a given. We believe every kid deserves to have their basic needs met—from a roof over their heads, to a pair of shoes on their feet.”
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In response to the initiative, Foot Locker made an initial commitment of 17,000 pairs, ensuring that 17,000 children would be able to start the school year with shoes on their feet. This is the kind of meaningful work that Soles4Souls has always done for the community; the kind that the footwear industry is proud to support.
Soles4Souls combines these direct donation efforts with micro-enterprise initiatives, to ensure maximum impact. Enterprising entrepreneurs who need a little support can partner with Soles4Souls to start small businesses, selling donated shoes and clothing. Through these businesses, workers can create sustainable, profitable operations that are able to support them and their families.
“Our micro-enterprise model is a way for women in developing countries to create a small business and earn an income,” Teaster said. “Our entrepreneurs can double or triple their income with a constant supply of quality product, and they can then invest that money back into their families. There’s life-changing power in this model.”
These shoe donations are changing lives but Soles4Souls can’t do this meaningful work without its partners. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, brands across the industry have continued to step up and support the mission. 2020 has seen unparalleled generosity from both brands and consumers. Soles4Souls’ partnership with DSW continued to grow, hitting a 3 million shoe donation milestone through their Rewards program, while Zappos shoppers have donated more than 1 million pairs to date.
This support from the community has been mirrored in the corporate community. Crocs more than doubled its contributions from the past four years combined, with a donation of 84,445 pairs in 2020; the brand has now donated 147,884 pairs total. Deckers brought its total contribution up to 185,681 pairs, with an additional $10,000 also donated to Soles4Souls this year.
Foot Locker expanded on its commitment to “4EveryKid” with an incredible gift of $250,000 in 2020, while Timberland and New Balance donated a mix of footwear and clothing to help fully equip those in need. Timberland has now given almost 8,000 pairs of shoes; New Balance has donated over 107,000 pairs since 2016.
This year has helped bring Soles4Souls closer to its ultimate goal: to create $1Billion in economic impact by 2030. With the help of brand partners throughout the footwear industry, Soles4Souls can continue to provide relief, create jobs and help break the cycle of poverty.
“We can’t relieve every burden,” said Teaster. “We can relieve this one.”