By Drew Hammell
For many sneakerheads, the holiday season is an exciting and busy time. Sneaker giants like Nike and adidas make sure to drop tons of sought-after kicks and apparel leading up to December 25th. It’s the perfect opportunity for plenty of sneaker lovers to cross a grail or two off their lists. For plenty of other people, however, the list doesn’t necessarily include sneakers. The list might include things like finding a meal, or a place to sleep.
There are over 500,000 homeless people in the United States alone; that isn’t counting many more who may have a home, but are living in poverty (around 45 million). The numbers are staggering for one of the wealthiest countries in the world. How can a country so rich in resources have so many in need? Fortunately, there are people who understand the needs, and are doing something about it.
Author Derek Snook intentionally chose to live homeless in Charleston, South Carolina for a year to learn about the issues homeless people face. “I lived in a mission with twenty-six other men in a dorm room with bunk beds, each bed having a locker. Living with the homeless for a year taught me that when I understand why people behave the way they behave, I can see myself in them.”
Snook wrote down all his experiences in his new book, The Definition of Success: What Living Homeless Taught Me. Fifty percent of all sales from his book will go right back to organizations that help the homeless.
Andre McDonnell also experienced the need to care for the homeless, but in a different way. A Brooklyn native who has worked in the fashion industry for twenty-five years, McDonnell founded It’s From The Sole. The non-profit organization donates sneakers to people in need around the country. In 2012, McDonnell saw a homeless man in New York City with no shoes or socks. “When I asked him what size shoe he was, he said he thought he was a size 10, from what he could remember,” recalled McDonnell. “I took the size 12 shoes off my feet, he tried them on, and his feet were so swollen that the shoes fit him. I ran home and decided I was gonna start giving all my sneakers away.” And that was how his new venture started.
Since then, McDonnell has donated almost 20,000 pairs of sneakers – everywhere from Washington, DC and Maryland, to Portland, to London, Paris, Barbados, and Haiti. “I’m 195 pairs away from 20,000,” noted McDonnell. He hopes to reach that milestone very soon.
Major James Betts is doing similar work in New York City with The Salvation Army.
“Since the earliest days of the Army, founder William Booth felt a burden for people who didn’t have access to churches. One day, his son saw people sleeping under a bridge. When his son told Booth, he said, ‘Do something.’ The homeless ministries started from there.”
Last year, Betts estimates that The Salvation Army helped over 25 million people through their programs. One million of those were in the New York metropolitan region. A large part of The Army’s services involve new and used donations. Clothing and sneakers are sold at The Army’s thrift stores, and the profits are used to run adult rehab centers. People in need can then go to the centers for free. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people in need are children. “A nice pair of shoes is furthest from their reality,” said Betts.
Shelby Ausband, founder of pur[SHOE]ing joy, felt the call to help people in need in Guatemala. Of the 17 million people living in Guatemala, 75% live below the poverty line. Only one out of every ten will reach high school. There are many needs in Guatemala, with shoes being one of the most basic. “We have donated about 27,000 pairs of shoes now, which truly blows my mind,” said Ausband.
As Ausband and her team gave out the shoes over the years, they realized another need and are working on a new project: Project Apoyo.“We will be supporting the Guatemalans under two umbrellas: Education and Employment.” Less than a dollar a day ($360 a year) puts a child through school, and covers their tuition, uniform, books, book bag, their teacher’s salary, and a pair of shoes. The program will also create the opportunity to hire more teachers and build a bakery so that food can be provided for the schools.
In a sample poll of over 1,200 @nikestories followers, 63% said they own more than 25 pairs of shoes. That means those 756 people own almost 19,000 pairs minimum. What if each person donated one pair? Or two? Or three? What if all Americans fortunate enough to own more than 25 pairs or more did the same thing? The results would be staggering and life-changing for millions of people who don’t even own one pair of shoes. It may not seem like a big deal, but for those in need, it could be the first step in the right direction.
The above quotes have been edited for clarity.