Nonprofit ships shoes to communities in need worldwide

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

There are certain shoes that will travel farther than many of the people who once wore them, and eventually they’ll be shipped throughout the world. Sneakers, high heels and sandals have been donated to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit social enterprise.

“We are committed to wearing out poverty through the distribution of shoes and clothing,” said Lizzy Swiderski, the regional donation center manager for the organization.

Launched in 2006 as a disaster relief organization, the nonprofit eventually expanded its efforts after visiting villages throughout the world.

“We realized that there was a long-term solutions for these countries, like Haiti and Honduras, where we can vet entrepreneurs on the ground in those locations and help them to make a sustainable income by selling shoes in their local marketplaces,” Swiderski said.

In order to do that, Soles4Souls asks people to donate gently used shoes. The Nashville-based organization has three drop-off locations in New Jersey, including a new collection site at a storage facility in Bordentown. Soles4Souls sells the shoes to micro-entrepreneurs and small business owners in developing countries who typically make $10 to $12 per pair at their local market.

Soles4Souls grades the used shoes. There are three main categories: Grade A, B and C. Grade A is for shoes that are new, or barely used. As for Grade B, they’re in good shape, maybe just a little bit worn. Shoes categorized as Grade C might resemble your favorite pair of shoes because they’ve been worn a lot.

Swiderski says there’s a market for every shoe depending on the country. She even accepts single shoes.

“They go to places like Pakistan where the rice paddy workers only need one shoe because only one of their shoes get muddy,” she said.

During disasters, Soles4Souls continues to provide new clothes and shoes that are donated by corporate sponsors. During Superstorm Sandy, they provided the Keansburg Police Department with new boots. Students in town also received new shoes and jackets. The nonprofit received more than 100 pairs of shoes at their Bordentown location. They were all donated by people who just want to give back.

“When I look around the world and I see there is so much need, I realize I am very blessed. This is something small that I can do for the world to pay it forward,” said Bordentown resident Denise O’Donnell.

“It’s important for me to come and drop off these shoes because it sparks a domino effect, not only in my community of Somerset County, but around the communities around the world,” said Hillsborough resident Alia Rind.

So far, Soles4Souls has distributed more than 30 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries. Swiderski is especially moved by the children.

“They’re simply so excited to have a brand-new pair of shoes,” she said. “You have to understand that usually these children either have only one pair of shoes or they share with another child.”

Swiderski hopes the new collection site will encourage even more New Jerseyans to donate.