How many pairs of shoes does your family have in your closets, piled up by the door, or scattered around the house? Do you have shoes that you wore once or twice only to sit in a closet for years? The average person in the U.S. owns about 17 pairs of shoes, buys six to seven new pairs of shoes every year, and donates or sells only about 15% of all of their unwanted old shoes and clothes. The rest (almost 60 pounds per person per year) ends up in landfills, taking decades to break down and using up valuable space.
To make matters worse, much of the footwear being landfilled could really benefit people who don’t have shoes or don’t have the right shoes to fit their needs.
Two friends see a need and get to work
Bob Broughton, the co-founder of Changing Footprints in Central Indiana, is working to address both of these concerns. In 2005, he learned that there was a great need for kids’ shoes in Afghanistan. He and co-founder Maureen Leisure gathered some friends and created their all-volunteer, non-profit organization that both collects unwanted shoes and distributes them for FREE to kids and adults who need them.
“We accept any shoe in any size and any condition,” notes Broughton, “even if shoes are too beat up for reuse. If they have rubber soles like most sneakers and tennis shoes, they can be sent to the Nike Company to be ground up and mixed with other products to make sports fields, playground surfaces, or new shoes.”
From its start in one founder’s living room and the other’s garage, Changing Footprints now has five warehouses where volunteers sort the shoes into the proper categories for distribution. Changing Footprints helps schools, solid waste districts, faith-based groups, and other organizations to collect used shoes which it then gives away.
Whether there is a need for sports shoes at a youth soccer league, ballet shoes for dance scholarship kids, prom shoes for high schoolers, black performance shoes for middle school band kids, warm boots for people experiencing homelessness, or shoes for shelters helping people in need, Changing Footprints provides the footwear they need at no cost. While most donated shoes are distributed locally in Indiana, the organization also provides shoes to groups nationally and internationally.
Most recently, volunteers at Changing Footprints helped sort, clean, transport, and provide 3400 pairs of gently used shoes to the Afghan refugees temporarily housed at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. Many of the refugees left their homes in Afghanistan quickly and arrived with very few belongings. The donated shoes provided the refugees with warm footwear for the winter.
Donate — don’t trash — your unwanted shoes
Remember those spare shoes in the back of your closet? Help reduce shoe waste while providing used shoes to those who need them! If you live in Central Indiana, Changing Footprints is always looking for volunteers. Help by hosting a used shoe drive at your school, club, or faith community. Shoe collection bins are provided, and shoes are then dropped off at any of their five Indiana locations. There are numerous volunteer opportunities for families and groups to help with pairing and sorting the thousands of shoes that are brought into their warehouses each year. For details, email Bob Broughton at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have used shoes to donate, Changing Footprints also has shoe drop-off locations throughout Indiana and listed on their website.
If you don’t live in Indiana, visit Soles4Souls, to discover how you can hold a used shoe drive in your community; the website also provides used shoe drop-off locations based on zip code. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and local thrift or resale shops also accept gently used shoes. Remember to tie or rubber band shoes together before donating. Keeping each pair of shoes matched makes sorting the shoes much easier!
Reusing or donating shoes is ALWAYS better than throwing them away. For more reuse ideas, check out Good Deals That Do Good.
Photo credit: Adam Smigielski | E+ | Getty Images