In 1996, as a 22 year-old 2nd Lt in the Air Force, I ran on the US Team for the World Military Cross Country Championships in Rabat, Morocco. It was my first time out of the continent, and my first time dealing directly with International athletes.
My older teammates brought their used trainers to give to athletes from developing countries. This was my first real awareness of the need and the scarcity of shoes in many countries.
In 2001, I traveled to race in Europe with the Nike Farm Team. At the end of our trip, a few of my teammates discarded their old trainers in the trash at our hotel. I later heard that one of the Kenyan athletes (racing with us) pulled them out of the trash to bring home to Kenya. This was my call to action; and for some reason I thought I could collect shoes and find a way to get them to overseas.
That night I penned a plan to collect and ship shoes, and on the plane flight home I started brainstorming ways to get shoes. At that stage of my life, I tended to just jump right into things; I think there is a benefit of inexperience. It turned out collecting shoes isn’t the hardest part of running a collection program. It’s the costs of shipping, storage and other logistics. One of the challenges we had early in the program was finding the funds and storage space to ship. Early on, I learned that I could store up to 1,000 pairs of shoes in our garage and a donated closet. Once the space was totally filled, the focus shifted from collection to shipping.
We took the unique path of deciding not to seek funding for shipping. I was always better at connecting than seeking fundraising. We’d prepare shoes for shipment, and the onus for shipping and distribution fell upon the non-profit or individual distributing the shoes. Our shoes tagged along with elite athletes, mission trips, peace corp volunteers and individual travelers. With one exception, the shoes we entrusted people with, got to their destinations. In 2007, our priorities shifted to war-zone sports, and collaborated with Project Active. We worked with soldiers, sailors and airmen to distribute shoes. Many of the shipments included other specifically requested sports equipment (mainly soccer balls). When possible, we still set aside shoes for sport specific purposes.
In 2010, I met with Ali Loh. He runs a shipping program called Cadija that ships shoes and clothes to Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. From Our Feet had done several shipments there, and Ali’s program offered us a way to continue to bring shoes into the region. There was one catch, Ali’s company is a micro-enterprise program. This means that the shoes are sold by vendors in local markets. At this point in time, the 30k shoes we had collected had all been gifted.
There was some resistance on my part to transform. Ali had to convince me that micro-enterprise was a better way to distribute shoes. It was explained to me that while giving shoes is noble, it can sometimes inhibit the growth of business and hurt local business. For instance, a large donation of shoes, given for free, could hurt a local vendor who earns a living selling shoes. I had never really thought of the potential negative impact of our donations. At this point, I am sure that some of our donations were mitigated by a potential detrimental economic impact on the local economy.
Over the last few years, the focus has shifted from donation to micro-enterprise. While in the past our donations went to multiple places, working with Cadija has allowed From Our Feet to use the shoes we collect to be used on he sustained development of one area. From a shipping perspective, it allows us to be sustainable, and we no longer have storage issues (garages, closets, barns).
What From Our Feet is:
- First and foremost, we are a collection entity that helps organize shoe collection drives at your school, gym, business, event or retail store.
- As importantly we are logisitics experts that know creative and effective ways (financially and socially) to utilize the shoes that you donate. In some cases, we can help find free shipping and non-profit partners to accept your donations
- Organizational Connectors: we use our connections and expertise to help other organizations utilize the same shipping connections we have.
- Individual Connectors: We love connecting people to their shoe donations. When your organization organizes a drive, you should have some say in which non-profit or social enterprise you prefer the donation to go to.
What From Our Feet is not:
A non-profit organization. We take no money for donations. For shoes, the donations are actually made to the non-profit organizations that receives the shoes. If you want to donate money for a specific project, we suggest donating to the non-profit in charge of ultimately receiving and distributing shoes.
An accepter of new shoes. Our niche is used shoes, and there are many great local and international groups that will gladly accept new shoes. Since we are connectors, we can put you in touch with the right organizations.