How many shoes do you sift through when deciding how to present yourself to the world each day? Admittedly, I had about sixty shoes swelling my shelves. What is your number?
Sixty is the number of shoes I had spilling out of my closet. Fifty-nine was the number of shoes that were not being used on a daily basis. Shoes faded into oblivion when I found a trendier or more comfortable pair (or they got lost in the abyss of my closet). Some shoes I did not even wear for entire seasons. If you are like me, you are just another person with a "shoe problem."
Although we use the word "problem," shoe abundance is undoubtedly a luxury. The smells of leather and the glamor of heels on display seduce us time and time again into yet another purchase. Some shoes evoke power, while others prove athleticism. Shoes are a social mechanism to convey who we are. They also have transformative power, allowing us to step into another persona. Fierce black pumps command attention, whereas Sperry's on the weekend signal preppy leisure.
Maybe you are like me and justify each pair as some sort of a necessity. While shoes are not only a fashion statement, they are an imperative part of our lives: the machinist and steel-toe boots, the ballerina in flats, the teacher in loafers, and the student in the latest kicks. Yes, with multiple closets in which to house my shoes, I have a shoe problem.
Let me tell you about a real problem.
UNICEF estimates that 300 million of the world's children go without shoes. That is 300 million children who are susceptible to infection, injury, and lost educational opportunity. Furthermore, communities with populations living in abject poverty suffer even greater economic losses when workers' productivity levels falter due to the absence of shoes. Meanwhile, the EPA finds that Americans are throwing away 790,000 tons of shoes every year. The world's poor have a real problem, and there is something we can do about it.
Soles4Souls is a company with a simple concept -- distribute new, old, or unwanted shoes to those in need and victims of natural disasters, and today Soles4Souls has provided "over 19 million pairs of shoes in over 125 countries both for crisis relief and to support micro-enterprise projects."
The reality of poverty smacked me in the face on a recent trip to Cuba. In a country of material scarcity, shoes, like everything else, seem to date back to the Revolution. Children's feet spilled out of too small of shoes, men shuffled about in barely there tennis shoes, and women bared the brunt of cobblestone pavement in makeshift sandals. It makes me think twice about complaining of sore, swollen feet when mine are tucked away in a sturdy fitting pair of shoes.
This school year I am asking my school, community, and fellow readers to join me in collecting shoes for the Soles4Souls campaign. Giving requires neither time nor money. The Soles4Souls motto is not hype; you can literally change the world "one pair at a time."
The need for shoes is particularly relevant this hurricane season, as countries like Haiti are battered yet again. When the floodwater of Hurricane Katrina inundated my home back in 2005, like so many others, it took with it a closet of shoes, among other things. When I temporarily enrolled in a new school out of state, the generosity of others became a prominent theme in my life, and even I became the recipient of a new pair of shoes.
Reading up on the Soles4Souls company history, it remains evident that this organization forgets not the need for appropriate footwear in our own impoverished or devastated communities. The very group of friends that would later start the S4S organization rallied to send 750,000 pairs of new shoes to Gulf Coast communities in need following Katrina, and I imagine my white sneakers were a part of this.
Today I am putting that same pair of well-loved "Katrina shoes" back into the collection for Soles4Souls. I know first-hand the gratitude one will feel and the meaning behind a suitable pair of shoes.
I urge you to make your shoe "problem" a positive solution to a global need. A single pair of shoes effectively prevents disease, parasites, and the general stigmatization that comes from inadequate or even non-existent shoes. Collecting and donating is a simple way to make a difference, in both humanitarian and environmental terms. From one sole to another, join me.