Use Your Powers for Good: Set Up a Shoe Drive

Runners know the struggle...

Running is best done with specialized shoes, some of which cost $120 or more.  For some runners, the shoes are unwearable after 300 to 500 miles.  For marathoners, this could be as short as two or three months!  And the "worn out" shoes can still look perfectly rips or tears, no dirt on the outsole, everything seemingly in working order.

These have over 200 miles on them...who knew??!

If you're like me, you have a pile of these used running shoes in your closet.  You know better than to keep running in them, but you can't seem to part with them.  Surely these shoes have some life left in them, right???!!

My husband works for a nonprofit that operates a soup kitchen, boarding house, emergency shelter, food pantry, and clothes closet.  We always notice how many people in the community have inadequate or no shoes.  For people who are on their feet all day, every day, shoes are the first clothing items to be worn out and discarded.  The clothes closet stays stocked with last season's clothing, but shoes are few and far between.

Part of the free clothes closet.
Before:  The closet stays stocked with last season's clothing, but shoes are few and far between.

Right before Thanksgiving, the clothes closet director sent out a mailer with a list of "Things we Need for the Holidays," and it said gently used athletic shoes at the top of the list.  I called to ask whether my used running shoes would be okay, and I was given an enthusiastic YES!!!  As I started piling my shoes by the door, something clicked in my head.  What if other runners in town were also hoarding used shoes?  I made a few quick posts on Facebook, on my own timeline and in a few local running groups.  The response was overwhelming!  It seemed like everyone had at least a few pairs of shoes they wanted to donate.

The first collection.
I ended up putting together a little Facebook event, with a time and a place for a shoe collection.  I timed it to coincide with Thanksgiving week, and called it "Thanksgiving Shoe Drive."  I promoted it to all my runner friends, the track club, and some Facebook groups for runners.

The Trak Shak, a local running store, agreed to "host" the event, and let us pile the shoes on their doorstep during an organized track club long run.  The store owner Jeff was so pumped up about the shoe drive, that he even managed to get about 20 donated pairs from his customers!

After:  Two thirds of these shoes were adopted by new owners within a week!
We ended up collecting 55 pairs of shoes during the official event.  But it didn't end there!  Once word got out, it seemed like everyone had shoes to get rid of.  Over the next month, I collected donations from a local Mormon social group, a gym, a tennis club, and an estate sale.  And the clothes closet director reports that shoes are still in demand.  In fact, we are still actively seeking donations of athletic shoes (I'm looking at you, Birmingham people)!

So, if you are a runner (like 98% of my audience) and you have a cache of shoes that are "used up" but not ugly enough to toss, you can organize a shoe drive of your own!

1.  Find a recipient organization.  I was in touch with homeless shelters, urban church congregations, and women's shelters that were interested in our shoes.  United Way is a great resource for finding a recipient group, because they coordinate with local charities.

2.  Reach out to your runner friends.  Use local clubs, coaching services, collegiate athletic departments, local running shops, and national organizations like Girls on the Run.

3.  Use social media!  Once you have a recipient organization, and bunch of interested runners, promote your drive.  Give it a name and a specific date.  Make a Facebook event.  Promote it on Instagram and Twitter.  See if you can get a local running store interested.

I'm so happy that we managed to get Birmingham runners interested in something like shoe donation, and connected with a charity in need.  Good luck, and let me know if any of you put together something similar in your hometowns!


Rebecca said…
What a great idea! I must have 6 pairs of used running shoes, very cute, but unsuitable for running. I'm going to look into this further. Thanks for the idea.