While sifting through the remnants of this holiday season, a life-changing donation is already in your closet – shoes. And chances are, you’ve got at least one pair you can part with. Last year alone, Americans discarded more than 300 million pairs of shoes.
Every seven seconds, Soles4Souls distributes a pair of shoes to someone in need. Since 2005, the nonprofit has distributed more than 12 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes in more than 125 countries, including the United States.
Founded by Wayne Elsey, former president of an international shoe company, the initial idea for the organization stemmed from the image of a lone shoe washing up on the Asian shoreline shortly after the disastrous tsunami in 2004.
Inspired to make an impact, Elsey called on both colleagues and competitors to donate shoes, resulting in a collection of more than 250,000 shoes that were donated to the region.
Since then, the organization has had a presence in major disasters around the world, including hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the earthquake in Haiti and, most recently, the record-breaking flood in its hometown of Nashville, where the organization partnered with the NFL to donate 1,000 pairs of shoes to a local rescue mission.
“We’ve sent everything we had to suffering people. Thankfully, we have the most amazing support network of individual heroes, and today, we need them to engage their family and friends to clean out their closets and help us respond to the needs of people around the world and here in the U.S.,” said Soles4Souls CEO Wayne Elsey.
The organization receives its shoes through footwear brands (such as Adidas or Red Wing), shoe stores (like Shoe Carnival or Finish Line) and individuals and other nonprofit groups (schools and churches, for example). Soles4Souls collects all types of shoes for donation. Individuals or other groups also get involved by hosting shoe drives, donating cash or sponsoring shoes for those in need.
In 1999, Timothy Anderson was an eager grad student studying education at Harvard, in search of an idea that would save the world.
With a growing interest in international issues, the environment and developing countries, Anderson had the drive and the know-how, but he needed the spark that linked together the different strands of his life’s work.
“I kept reading these reports about funding [in developing countries] for roofs, truck-boards, running water, you know, the basic things,” Anderson says. “I thought about what I would need; what’s missing to allow me to me and what I do? I just kept coming back to computers.”
After research, Anderson found that an organization that supplied donated refurbished computers to other countries wasn’t really established in the U.S. With a small group of volunteer board members and a super-frugal virtual office setup, Anderson developed the World Computer Exchange (WCE).
Eleven years later, with the help of more than 700 volunteers around the world, the organization ships donated computers to 42 different countries.
While out-of-date computers are often worthless here in the U.S., abroad, they can be the most valuable piece of equipment in a village or town. Anderson says that, oftentimes, a school will have to build an entire separate building outfitted with bars and other security measures to protect their computers.
But security is just one aspect recipients have to fully understand and commit to during the process. A large shipment of computer equipment comes with a price. Refurbishing, preparing and shipping the computers is a large financial burden for nonprofit WCE. While the organization has volunteers across the world that assist with the process, the recipient country is responsible for one-third of the cost, which usually totals $50 to $75.
While Anderson says the monthly success stories are continual inspiration that keeps the organization running, WCE is still a lean operation with little funding. The charity heavily relies on help from local volunteers and continual monetary and equipment donations.
“It has been so hard to raise money during these last couple of years, and what has surprised me is just how difficult it got to be for the developing countries as well. This downturn was global,” Anderson says. “We’re as frugal as possible, so any money we get is used well.”
Besides monetary donations, WCE also accepts computer equipment from individuals, groups and businesses. Individual donations can be mailed to the Boston headquarters. For larger shipments, oftentimes, Anderson will find local volunteers to arrange a pick up for the items.
But if you’re sans money or extra computers this holiday season, you can give your time.
“There are ways to get involved as a volunteer or a refurbisher,” Anderson explains. “We work in a lot of different chapters across the country, and we’re always looking for more volunteers. It’s a small amount of time per week, but these volunteers are constantly solving problems and helping us out.”
The health care industry is one of the single most polluting industries in the country. According to Practice Green Health, American hospitals generate approximately 6,600 tons of waste daily.
Combine that with the World Health Organization’s estimate that more than 10 million children under the age of five die due to inadequate medical care.
In 1998, A.B. Short and Bob Freeman created MedShare to serve the overlooked sector of excess supplies and the environment of the health care industry.
The organization partners with hospitals, clinics, medical manufacturers and distributors to collect surplus supplies and equipment. Medshare then sends these materials to underserved medical facilities across the globe.
“The supplies and equipment that MedShare collects and redistributes to needy healthcare facilities abroad are saved from landfills and incinerators, and in 12 years of operations, we have saved over 1.2 million cubic feet of landfill space,” said spokesperson Kimberly McCollum.
Twelve years later, the charity is still thriving. Most recently, MedShare was named a 2010 Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) winner by the 2010 CalRecycle Waste Reduction Award Program.
Over the past year, the MedShare team has been diligent in its continued efforts in post-quake Haiti. Just one day after the earthquake, Short was on the ground in Haiti, working with victims to assess the damage and supplies needed to remedy major injuries and assist local clinics.
Since Jan. 12, 2010, MedShare has shipped 28 40-foot containers filled with more than 168 tons of life-saving medical supplies and equipment to needy hospitals in Haiti. The organization has supplied 83 medical mission teams with more than 14,000 pounds of medical supplies for treating the sick and injured.
Now, Haiti faces yet another challenge: An outbreak of more than 103,300 cases of cholera have been reported in the country. MedShare says donation and support is still needed as the country recovers.
While MedShare primarily works with health care organizations, anyone can get involved by donation. Through MedShare’s Boxes of Hope campaign, donors can pay to sponsor supply packages of crucial first aid supplies, such as syringes, sterile gloves and gowns, labor and delivery kits, biopsy kits and surgical kits. Supporters can sponsor a minimum of two boxes for $40, up to a maximum of 1,000 boxes for $22,000.
But if the bank account is low after this holiday season, there are volunteer opportunities with MedShare in both its Atlanta and Northern California facilities. Most volunteers are responsible for sorting through medical equipment that will be shipping to other countries, but the charity values all trades brought to the table, “whatever your skills, we will put them to good use,” MedShare says.