Phenomenal footwear: Changing the world one pair at a time

UW-Eau Claire hosts a Soles4Souls drive to bring shoes and more to those in need

More stories from Taylor Hagmann


Photo by Rebecca Mennecke

Unwanted shoes can be brought to the Soles4Souls donation bin in the McIntyre Library.

As students walk into McIntyre Library and pass the service desk, not far from the elevators on the left they’ll see a large green bin. In it are, or ideally will be, lots and lots of shoes.

From flip flops to boots, regardless of size or quality, any and all shoes can be donated now through the end of the school year to the Soles4Souls drive.

Soles4Souls, based in Nashville, Tennessee, was founded in 2006 and, according to Charity Navigator, “disrupts the cycle of poverty by creating sustainable jobs and providing relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing around the world.”

Soles4Souls has a four-star rating through Charity Navigator, the best rating achievable, with more than 30 million pairs of shoes donated in 127 countries, the website said.

Jenna Vande Zande, a research communications associate at McIntyre Library, said she will collect the donated shoes and sort them according to how worn they are. The shoes will then be brought over to Maple Grove, Minnesota, where they are either donated or recycled.

Soles4Souls recycles the worn-out shoes, mostly for the rubber, Vande Zande said. The new or almost-new shoes are sold to small, local businesses in developing countries.

The shoes are necessary for people to get around their community safely, Vande Zande said. Jobs and schools require shoes, and a lot of people have to walk several miles to get “to where they need to be.”

Soles4Souls then uses the profits they obtain from selling the shoes to buy clothing and other items for those in need.

“The reason they do this micro-enterprise program is in reaction to the TOMS shoes,” Vande Zande said.

TOMS brand has a program called “One for One,” where, for every pair of shoes purchased, one pair is donated to someone in need — in countries such as China, India or Haiti.

“Unfortunately, they were giving away so many free pairs that they totally destroyed the used goods market in multiple countries,” Vande Zande said, which greatly depleted available jobs.

By using the money they make from selling the shoes to purchase other items from local businesses in the community, Soles4Souls keeps money local, which stimulates the economy, Vande Zande said, instead of hindering it.

“They’re able to give free goods and services to people who need it, but also support these micro-enterprise businesses,” Vande Zande said.

Austin Northagen, a fourth-year English student and the director of the Student Office of Sustainability, said SOS has been working with Vande Zande and the library to help make the Soles4Souls drive possible.

“Our role is purely financial,” Northagen said.

He said Vande Zande had to rent a van to transport all the shoes over to Maple Grove, and SOS provided the funding to make that possible.

SOS is also the driving force behind the plastic bag recycling that has recently been set up in McIntyre, Vande Zande said, which is “very convenient” for those using a bag to carry their shoes to the library. Now, they can just recycle their bag when they’re done.

This is the third year there has been a Soles4Souls drive on the UW-Eau Claire campus, Vande Zande said.

During their first year in 2016, just over 1,000 pairs of shoes were donated. They were unable to fund a drive in 2017, but in 2018, they received over 1,400 pairs of shoes. This year, Vande Zande said, she’s hoping for over 2,000 pairs.

“I applaud the library for putting on this event; it’s something SOS can’t do alone,” Northagen said. “We’re grateful for their partnership.”

The Soles4Souls drive began Monday, April 22 and goes through Friday, May 24 in McIntyre Library.

Hagmann can be reached at [email protected].