RENO — Hundreds of trash bags cover every inch of a portable unit at Reno High School, except for a small pathway to allow donors to bring in even more new and worn shoes.
Soles 4 Souls has held a campaign with two local high schools, Reno and Damonte Ranch, with students collecting and bagging their own shoes and those donated by family members and local businesses. The effort, led by the nonprofit Soles 4 Souls, is meant to teach students how to be selfless in a simple way and make an impact on global catastrophes. Sparks High School recently launched its own program and will be collecting for some time.
Together, Reno and Damonte Ranch have collected about 28,000 pairs of shoes so far.
“The outside goal is that students realize how they can inspire others,” said Brian Williams, a local spokesperson for Soles 4 Souls and the founder of his own charitable organization, Think Kindness.
Soles 4 Souls began in 2005 after a tsunami struck Indonesia. According to www.soles4souls.org, its founder, Wayne Elsy, watched television news reports and saw an image of a single shoe washed up on the beach. He decided to launch a shoe drive that quickly collected more than 250,000 pairs that were sent to southeast Asia. He experienced similar success a year later in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and soon after, Elsy formed Soles 4 Souls as an official nonprofit.
At Reno High School, each bag in the unit holds 25 pairs of shoes, or about 12,000 to 14,000 total, and that’s only a portion of donations the Washoe County School District will be sending to help victims of the recent Haitian and Chilean earthquakes.
Soles 4 Souls collects every type, every size and every color of shoe, from athletic to sandals to clogs. When shoes collected locally are transported by the International Air Guard later this spring, they will be taken to Soles 4 Souls’ Nevada headquarters in Las Vegas. The facility houses a huge warehouse to sort and organize by size, type and gender, Williams said.
The program is all about helping to make a difference in the local community and in the world, he added.
“This is living proof of what they did,” Williams said of the students’ charitable work.
At Reno High School, he works in conjunction with English and leadership teacher Crystal Johnson. She said her leadership class of 27 students was in charge of collecting, bagging and neatly organizing the shoes in the unit. They spent more than 25 hours minimum per student, which is the community service requirement for their class, by collecting shoes every morning before school starts, at lunch time and after school.
While many shoes came from various members of the community, Johnson said about 75 percent came from students.
“Shoes are something we all take for granted and that we all have at home,” Johnson said. “It’s like not like we’re asking for money or even food, which is getting harder (to collect) these days.”
Johnson said it’s also an opportunity to show students how shoes are an accessory in the United States, but students in third-world countries like Kenya, must have shoes to attend class. Because so many people go without a decent pair, some will wear their shoes for half a day and give them to others for the other half of the day so they have a chance to attend, she explained, and some aren’t able to go to school at all because they have no shoes.
Williams said 300 million children in the world do not have shoes. He added that in 2008, 2.5 billion people in the United States bought brand new shoes.
Williams said 1.3 million shoes will be donated to Haiti.
“We have enough shoes in every U.S. closet to give every single child several pairs of shoes,” he said. “I’m overshoed; I still have 6,000 pairs in my garage (that have been collected and need to send off).”
Reno and Damonte Ranch held a friendly competition to see who could bring in the most shoes, but soon, other schools from other states, such as South River High School in Annapolis, Md., will get involved and try to out do Washoe County, Williams said.
Most of the 28,000 shoes that have been donated locally will eventually wind up on the feet of Haitians and Chileans who have suffered the devastation of the countries’ recent earthquakes, but others will go to other American nonprofits that provide charitable services, such as Dress for Success, which provides professional attire for disadvantaged women and boosts their self-confidence.
During the course of the school-to-school competition between Reno and Damonte Ranch, students were able to convince Superintendent Heath Morrison to give a pair of shoes and he went barefoot for a day. They also “stole” a pair from Reno Mayor Bob Cashell.
WCSD school board trustee Scott Kelley, who was at the press conference announcing the effort in mid-March, said community activities that encourage students to understand others’ needs are beneficial to their education.
“Soles 4 Souls is a friendly competition and students understand how their hard work can help people in need who need shoes and have gone through an earthquake experience that is very traumatic,” Kelley said. “Soles 4 Souls teaches them the benefit of working together in a community of people in need.”
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini is also encouraging those in Sparks to get involved. He challenged residents to get 100 city blocks to donate shoes on May 2. Shoes collected that day can be dropped off at Sparks High School on May 3.
For more details, visit http://neighborhoods4haiti.com. A video that highlights Martini’s call for charitable shoe donations can be found on http://vimeo.com/thinkkindness.
Williams said monetary donations also would be appreciated. It costs $2 to send a pair of shoes to the nonprofit’s headquarters. Companies such as FedEx have contributed in the past by making free shipments.