Saving a million soles

The goal is to collect 100,000 pairs of shoes in Kelowna during the month of April as part of Sole4Souls Canada's Million Shoe Mission.

Many of the shoes collected will remain in the Okanagan and will be distributed out into the community through agencies like the Gospel Mission, however the remaining shoes are destined for something much different.

Since its inception in 2004, Soles4Souls has distributed over 17 million pairs of shoes for crisis relief situations in countries like Haiti and Japan after the earthquakes. But not all the shoes are just given away, in some countries people take the donated shoes and sell them as part of a micro-enterprise program.

Jim Belshaw, who started Soles4Souls Canada, says last year 7,000 pairs of the 60,000 pairs of shoes collected remained in the Okanagan, but the remaining shoes were shipped primarily to Haiti.

"Soles4Souls was finding that you go into a country and drop a bunch of shoes and take off, which is good, it puts shoes on the feet of those who need them. But if you teach someone how to sell them, it's the old saying 'if you give a man a fish he eats for a day, you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime'."

CAO of Soles4Souls, Todd McKee, says giving shoes away for crisis relief is appropriate in many situations to address the immediate needs of people who are suffering, but to fight poverty on a long term basis, micro-enterprise is the best solution.  

"There is a time for relief and a time for development, so Soles4Souls does both."

According to McKee the micro-enterprise program started in Haiti and has since spread to six other countries.

"It's a consignment model, so that the people don't have to come up with any up front costs, they just receive inventory of shoes and then they go out and sell them then come back and reimburse our man in Haiti for his costs, and then he orders another container of shoes from us and then he reimburses us for the cost."

The cost of the shoes sold by vendors in places such as Haiti is estimated to be ten dollars, while their reimbursement fee is approximately two dollars. McKee says the money Soles4Souls brings in is the cost of shipping and processing the shoes.

"We employ 25 people in Alabama in a very small disadvantaged town, called Wadley. So what they do is when they receive shoes there, they take them, sort them to size and condition. If they are B or C grade then they are destined for micro-enterprise if they are A grade then they are for crisis relief."

'A' Grade shoes are new or almost brand new and need no repairs, while B or C shoes are gently used and need to be fixed up by the vendors before selling.

McKee says Soles4Souls is very transparent in explaining where the shoes are going and how they are being distributed.

"We get more criticism from people for giving away shoes, because there is a huge current in the non-profit world about 'dumping' donations in foreign countries. So I email back and I say we do micro-enterprise to help local economies and benefit them long term. Donations help to alleviate suffering, but micro-enterprising can help with long term poverty by allowing the merchant to make money to feed his family."

According to McKee the micro-enterprise programs are going well and countries such as Tanzania have vendors asking for more donations.

"When I spoke with (the) Tanzanians, the consensus was they make $300 a month which is about three times the average of other Tanzanians and what we are trying to do is reach out to the single moms, the widows or other people that never new about the opportunity and bring them in to learn about the basic business principles. We hope that by attracting these folks and bringing them in for business training, they will know that when they receive the shoes for consignment that this will be a long term business opportunity."

There are 130 countries, including those with micro-enterprise programs, that receive crisis relief shoes from Soles4Souls and McKee says they are looking to do more work in other nations, especially South America.

"Donations can only be given to places where there is a policy in place to receive the shoes. A lot of countries, whether it is civic pride or what not, may not want that kind of donation."

Soles4Souls Canada has recently been named a registered charity and according to McKee this will benefit Canadian manufacturers who donated shoes that cannot be sold due to flaws with a tax incentive.

Back in Kelowna the goal remains the same, donated shoes and a few extra dollars to help change the lives of people in this community and around the world.

Belshaw says Soles4Souls Canada started as a little idea three years ago and has grown with help of the community.

"It started when the devastating earthquake hit Haiti and I thought I would collect a few thousand pair of shoes. I had a lofty goal of 2500 shoes and the first day we had 4000 or 5000 pairs of shoes dropped off. We collected 45,000 pairs of shoes the first year, and 60,000 last year and this year 100,000 pairs in BC. "

Throughout the country Belshaw expects there will be half a million pairs of shoes collected in the next 30 days for Soles4Souls. 

Three ways to help:

1)     Drop off shoe locations at the drop off locations see http://soles4soulskelowna.blogspot.ca/  for all locations
2)     A $1.00 donation buys 1 pair of new sandals. To donate go to www.soles4soulscanada.com/donate
3)     Organize a shoe drive at a: school, church, your place of business or neighbourhood.

How does this story make you feel? (181 total votes)
Castanet MoodMeter

More Kelowna News