Thousands of pairs of shoes sit in an Aiken warehouse, tied together at their laces, awaiting new homes.
“There are mountains of shoes,” said Deedee Vaughters of 1-800-Got-Junk? of Aiken and Augusta.
By May 15, she hopes there will be mountains more.
The business, a handful of area churches and individuals have joined with the nonprofit Soles4Souls to get shoes to people who need them in 129 countries.
Soles4Souls has distributed 17 million pairs of new or gently used shoes since its founding after the Southeast Asia tsunami in 2004.
A statewide campaign aims to collect 150,000 pairs of shoes from Georgia families by May 15, said David Graben, Soles4Souls’ executive vice president.
A recent Sunday at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta netted 5,000 pairs of shoes donated by church members.
“Some of them brought bags of shoes. Some of them took the shoes off their feet and left barefoot,” said Todd Sturgell, the church’s creative worship pastor. “All five services we had people who brought shoes up and laid them at the stage. By the end of the day, there was a mountain of shoes.”
It’s the second year in a row the church has held a shoe drive for Soles4Souls.
“It’s a great cause. There are so many people less fortunate than we are,” Sturgell said. “It’s something everybody can participate in. So often we say, ‘I can never go on a missions trip. I can’t take a week off work.’ But God gives us things in our everyday lives to work with.”
Volunteers are responsible for bagging the shoes while 1-800-Got-Junk?, a junk removal service, coordinates pickup and stores the shoes until they can be transported to Soles4Souls’ processing facility in Alabama.
“They call us and we take care of it,” Vaughters said. “We want to make it as easy as possible for people
to participate. We all have shoes our kids have outgrown.”
Once in Alabama, shoes are sorted according to climate and type. New shoes are collected for disaster relief victims. Used shoes are funneled to microbusiness programs that aim to eradicate poverty in developing countries such as Haiti, Tanzania and Honduras.
A pair of shoes is not simply a matter of dignity, Graben said, but also a means of protection against diseases and foot injuries. Shoes are often required for school uniforms in many countries.
“There are 300 million children in the world without shoes,” Graben said.
He said Soles4Souls estimates that 1.5 billion
pairs of shoes that are no longer worn sit in American closets.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of locations making it really easy to clean out your closet,” he said. “Encourage your community. Talk to your church. Put on an event where you have to bring a pair of shoes to get in. It all helps.”