Non-profit Soles4Souls is launching its annual Barefoot Week program to raise awareness and assist those people who do not have access to adequate footwear. Buddy Teaster, Soles4Souls President and CEO, explained the details of this year’s program.
Barefoot Week begins Oct. 11 with Barefoot Sunday, a day where church congregations will collect shoes to donate to the program. This will be followed by five days of donations by footwear brand Stride Rite, with the goal of distributing 5,000 pairs of shoes to children in need in five cities across the the country. Barefoot Week will close with Barefoot4Them on Oct. 16, a day of awareness to live one day without shoes in honor of those who don’t have access to them.
Soles4Souls is partnering with Stride Rite on Barefoot Week for the first time. Stride Rite distributions will take place at Native American reservations, inner city schools and in rural Appalachia. Last September marked the first time that Soles4Souls collaborated with the children’s footwear brand, and the organization found that Stride Rite really connected with their customers, Teaster noted. The two companies organized a collection partnership and obtained 80,000 pairs of shoes.
The program has evolved over the years. The first year of the program centered on donations, and Soles4Souls gave 325,000 pairs of flip-flops. The idea of distributing a large amount of shoes was very appealing, but Teaster said the feedback from people was that those shoes may not be the best for people in need. At that point, the organization decided to focus on small donations with higher-quality footwear.
After the original founder left in 2012, it fell to Teaster to reevaluate the program’s purpose within the company’s larger mission. He created a new program that shifted the focus from only giving away shoes, to the idea of Barefoot4Them and actually walking in their shoes. As Teaster explained, being barefoot in their everyday lives forced participants to think about where they couldn’t go, such as a restaurant, or where they didn’t want to go, like a public bathroom.
This year’s program combines the Barefoot Week donations and Barefoot4Them into one event for the first time. The organization’s mission now is to show how people can make a difference here in the United States, where poverty looks very different than it might in other places in the world. Teaster hopes the program will bring some awareness to how Soles4Soles can help.
Another component of Barefoot Week and Soles4Soles’ mission is collecting secondhand shoes that entrepreneurs in developing countries can sell. Industry members can contribute to this program by donating samples sizes, singles, excess inventory, customer returns and overruns. Soles4Souls can ensure that these products do not show up again in the US market.