Homelessness. For more than 1.5 million children in the U.S. it’s about more than not having a roof over their head. It can mean not having a pair of clean, comfortable shoes to get them to school.
Enter Soles4Souls’ new 4EveryKid initiative, the nonprofit’s most ambitious project since it launched 15 years ago. The mission: to provide a pair of brand-new athletic shoes to every K-12 student experiencing homelessness.
“It will be the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” said Buddy Teaster, CEO and president of Soles4Souls. “The impact 4EveryKid will be something I’ll be proud of the rest of my life. It takes a lot of work to get there, but if we can pull it off, it will make a difference to millions of kids.”
For Jamie Ellis, VP of marketing and communications at Soles4Soles, 4EveryKid not only gets new kicks on kids’ feet, but the shoes they receive carry a brand name. “They can have a sense of dignity when they go to school and won’t be differentiated from other students,” she said.
Since the program’s debut in October 2020, the organization has distributed 29,361 pairs of shoes and expects to give out another 15,000 this fall though contributions from partners including Foot Locker.
“At Foot Locker, our purpose is to inspire and empower youth culture,” said Richard Johnson, chairman and CEO. “Empowering youth means giving them the tools and resources to succeed, and we believe that sneakers can make an incredible impact on a young person’s life. It’s the sense of confidence they get when putting on a new pair of shoes, it’s the walk to school that becomes a bit easier, and it’s that added comfort when working that after-school job. It’s a partnership we’re very proud of.”
Soles4Souls also remains committed to its string of sister programs that continue to turn unwanted shoes and clothing into opportunity by providing relief, creating sustainable jobs and empowering people to disrupt the cycle of poverty. To date, its supporters and partners have kept more than 73.3 million pairs of shoes and pieces of apparel from going to waste, distributing them in 129 countries and throughout the U.S.
Among its key initiatives is a microenterprise program that assists predominantly female entrepreneurs build their own small businesses by selling donated shoes and clothing. Since 2006, Soles4Souls has worked with 13 partners to create jobs and opportunities across 53 countries. “They have a lot more money to invest in their families and that ultimately gets people out of poverty in the long term,” said Teaster.
Most recently, Soles4Souls’ disaster relief program took the spotlight, helping organizations and second-wave responders to provide new shoes and clothing to those affected by wildfires in California and Oregon, as well as the explosion in Beirut, earthquake in Haiti and hurricanes in Central America. “Natural disasters are ramping up,” said Teaster. “We now have to figure out how to be responsive and have a supply chain ready to go.”
But it doesn’t take a natural disaster for Soles4Souls to lend hand. It now counts Sidewalk Samaritan, a not-for-profit aiding homeless in New York, among its partners. “It [means] everything that they’re able to give a pair of shoes to someone who might otherwise end up in the hospital with a severe foot infection,” said Emily Borghard, president and founder of Sidewalk Samaritan.
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit in early 2020, Soles4Souls experienced a surge in gifts. “Last year our used shoe collections went way down, but new shoe donations went up,” Teaster recalled. “Suddenly, retail was closed, warehouses were full and [companies] would give [product]. There was a period of time when new shoes and clothing donations skyrocketed.”
However, today, the nonprofit is concerned with supply chain issues and its ability to transport product to areas in need. “We have bags and bags with 100 pounds of product waiting in our warehouses, either because there aren’t enough trucks and drivers, or we can’t get space on boats,” said Ellis.
Securing donations of used goods has also become more challenging. “Resale channels like ThredUp and Poshmark are showing up more,” said Teaster, creating competition for used items. “People who used to donate are saying they could maybe get $20 to $100 selling items.”
But the executive remains optimistic. “The industry continues to be very generous,” he said. “With our clear focus on 4EveryKid to make a difference here at home, we offer a new way for companies to get involved.”