Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Soles4Souls Founder Looks to the Future Through the Lens of the Past

Wayne Elsey, CEO of Shoe Charity, Challenges People to Create Habits that Stand Test of Time

Five years can seem like a long time when looking into the future. Will our priorities be the same? What will our economy look like in 2014? Will we have the same administration, or will someone else be in charge?

It's odd to imagine our 12 year-old children graduating high school, and impossible to imagine new technologies and gadgets we haven't yet invented (even if they will be the "hot" thing we can't possibly live without).

When looking to the past, five years seems so fleeting. Five years ago, the Asian tsunami wiped out 230,000 people in a matter of hours. It's a number that is beyond true comprehension. We watched the TV reports, mouths agape, at the immense suffering unfolding before our eyes.

It made a huge impact on me as I sat alone on a couch in Florida, wondering what I could do to actually have an impact on something that could not be fixed. I saw a single shoe washed up on a battered beach, and it struck a nerve because I was -- I am -- a "shoe guy," an executive for a boot company.

I felt challenged to act by locating and donating what I worked with everyday. Surely the survivors would need solid work boots to rebuild the countries shredded by the floods. In fact, any decent pair of shoes would do.

So I called my friends in the industry and asked some hard questions. Could they part with a hundred shoes? Five hundred? Thousands? I called competitors and laid out my specific challenges. And they all answered, with numbers that blew me away. In all, we sent 250,000 pairs of new shoes to people in the region.

Five years later, we stand as an official 501(c)(3) charity with three warehouses, a staff of 29, hundreds of celebrity supporters and thousands of donation locations across the country. We could astound you with the numbers of shoes we have collected and sent around the world, but the only number that really matters is 1.

One person goes into their closet and packs up shoes, takes them to a donation location, and places them in the box. For us, it's a life-changing moment, because we put these shoes on the feet of one person, one pair at a time.

There's a profound moment when we are kneeling before a needy person and putting new shoes on their tired feet. It happens when we look up at them and share the one-on-one moment that cannot be faked or re-created in a can. It's the gift of new shoes to a person in desperate need, and it is magical.

We work with shoe companies, retailers, churches & synagogues, civic groups, schools, and many other organizations that choose to partner with us for that magical moment -- putting one pair of shoes on a person's feet.

We send shoes to far off places like Afghanistan, where the public's suffering is ongoing and terror so commonplace that it is normal. We also donate new shoes to Americans in need, because we recognize that even 1st World countries can have 3rd World problems. In fact, more than 55% of our shoes stay in the United States to help the homeless population, foster children, victims of natural disasters, women escaping abusive homes, and dozens of other frightening scenarios.

Soles4Souls is pure grassroots -- you can see it when people flood your phone lines, begging to get involved. When the movement takes off and all you can do is watch it and applaud from the sidelines. People 'get' our charity because they recognize the need -- and discover the solution in their own homes and hearts. Our programs and events, like the current Soles4Souls RV Tour, are successful because people WANT to get involved... they don't need convincing. They simply need a way to get plugged in, and that's where we come in.

Our footwear donations are up 83% over last year. We move 45,000 pairs of shoes per week through our warehouses. Every 13 seconds, another person in need experiences that magical moment. And still, time ticks on.

We have found avid supporters in footwear companies, on the street, in the churches, and even online through social media programs like facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the like. We know there will be new tools and technologies that we will use to find more supporters, because we want that magical moment to be reproduced every single second.

Where will you be in five years? What impact will you leave on the hearts of mankind? I challenge you to choose positive actions, because when done consistently, they become habits, and habits become character.

Don’t wait. Visit to join Soles4Souls, and make a profound difference in the life of one person. Who knows, that one person just might be you.

About Soles4Souls
Nashville-based Soles4Souls™ facilitates the donations of both new and used shoes, which are used to aid the hurting worldwide. Soles4Souls has distributed more than 5 million pairs (currently distributing 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 the Green Guide by National Geographic. It has also appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, BBC and hundreds of regional outlets around North America. Soles4Souls is a 501(c)(3) recognized by the IRS; donating parties are eligible for tax advantages. Visit for more information.

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