Thanks to all who contributed shoes during our shoe drive for Soles4Souls. Dr. Waskin and Stephanie Hathaway of Soles4Souls were on CBS-6’s Virginia This Morning to talk about how shoes are helping to wear out poverty around the world.
Bill Bevins: At Soles4Souls, they believe everyone around the world deserves a good pair of shoes. This is a global initiative that has local events planned right here in Richmond.
Andrea: The Foot & Ankle Center has teamed up with Soles4Souls and is helping them with their campaign. Joining us today is Dr. Mitchell Waskin of The Foot & Ankle Center, along with Stephanie Hathaway, the regional donations center manager at Soles4Souls. Good morning!
Dr. Waskin and Stephanie: Good Morning!
Andrea: So during the holidays, we all focus on giving and giving back. But the giving isn’t done, so tell us about the importance of this program, and how we can get involved.
Stephanie: Soles4Souls is a global, nonprofit social enterprise. We are trying to alleviate poverty and we do that through the distribution of shoes and clothing around the world. We will create job opportunities with those shoes, and we’ll also provide relief. So we really rely on nonprofit partnerships in the U.S. and abroad to get the shoes to those people, and also on partners that will help us collect those shoes to get to them.
Bill: Dr. Waskin, we had a chance to talk before we came on, and in America, shoes are sort of a fashion thing, or maybe something we use for our favorite sport. But shoes are a basic — even a health issue in poor countries all over the world, and a lot of people all over the world still don’t have shoes.
Dr. Waskin: Yes, in fact, we talked about a book you read that talked about people who were getting hookworm because they didn’t have shoes, and because of that they couldn’t work and they had lots of health issues. We do take it for granted that we have shoes — we have an excess of shoes in this country, but a lot of people don’t. What I really love about the Soles4Souls organization is their entrepreneurial aspect: not only do they provide shoes at no cost to people who are in need of them, they also help people start businesses where they provide shoes and clothing to individuals in need. It’s kind of like the old quote where if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish he’ll eat for a lifetime. That’s what I really liked about it, and at The Foot & Ankle Center, we’re always looking for opportunities to give back, and we saw this organization and thought it was a good opportunity.
Andrea: This is a great opportunity also to almost be part of a sustainability initiative, where you’re keeping shoes out of landfills, for example. Can you tell us a little about how you get the shoes over to those in need?
Stephanie: Sure. We’ve collected over 35 million pairs of shoes and distributed them since 2006, in 127 countries. We rely on nonprofit NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) on the ground in those countries to get the shoes to them.
Bill: When we’re talking about that many shoes getting to that many people, when the shoes go out, do you get feedback from people helping you distribute these almost immediately of the difference that’s being made?
Stephanie: Yes, we have a travel team as well, where anybody can go on a trip abroad with us, and they can distribute new shoes to people in need in these remote villages where they don’t have access to stores or to marketplaces to buy them. So, every week, we’re in another country distributing these shoes and getting those stories from people. And with the Micro Enterprise program, we can work with our NGO partners to get the stories from the people who are actually selling the shoes. One of our entrepreneurs joined us around 2014, and she had a small house — pretty much a cinderblock room — and since she started selling shoes with us, she now has a plot of land where she built a home and all of her kids are able to go to school. So, it’s really disrupting that cycle of poverty for the families that are receiving these shoes.
Bill: Great stuff. Doctor, I actually saw an episode of M.A.S.H. once when they were talking about how complicated the foot is. And they said a machine is a Tinker Toy compared to everything that has to happen in the foot. So, obviously, shoes are vital. I was looking at some of the things you were describing about shoes that I had no idea. What is a “vamp” in a shoe — because I thought that was Cher singing on the show.
Dr. Waskin: It’s a part of the side of the shoe. There are actually lots of parts of the shoe. But really what’s important in a quality shoe is, you want to look for something that is sturdy. People come into the office and ask what is a good running shoe? And they’ll bring in these shoes that look nice, and they may have pretty colors, but you press on them and they just collapse, there’s no stability. So I always tell them, when you push from the front and the back, the toe should bend a little bit and then stop. You should be able to twist it just a little bit from the back and have that stability. We’re interested here more in function than in fashion in distributing shoes.
Bill: Thank you both very much, and thank you for all you’re doing all over the world. That is fantastic.