Soles4Souls: saving the world one pair of shoes at a time

Soles4Souls is a nonprofit organisation that collects “gently” used shoes for people who have been affected by natural disasters – hurricanes, floods – as well as people beset by poverty all over the world. It was officially founded in 2006, but was borne out of the great need that resulted after the 2004 tsunami in Malaysia. Wayne Elsey and brothers, Nick and Paul Wilson, of Old Hickory joined forces to collect 250,000 pairs of shoes for those affected by the tsunami. They reunited to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina and Soles4Souls came into being.

To date, Soles4Souls have donated more than 4 million pairs of shoes to people around the world and is supported by a number of A-list celebrities, sports federations and chain stores in the US. Scarlett Johansson, Angela Basset and Denzel Washington are just a few of the world-class celebs who have thrown their weight behind the organisation.

Hob-nobbing with such big names has done little to change Elsey, however, largely because he remains clueless as to whom his supporters are. According to Kevin Goughary, chief financial officer of Soles4Souls, Elsey is extremely good at what he does but when it comes to sports and pop culture he doesn’t have a clue. Before a benefit concert by Billy Joel, Elsey had to go out and buy a CD just so that he knew who Joel was. His opinion was that Billy Joel is “pretty good”.

Denzel Washington was luckier, however, and even has the honour of being able to call Elsey on his personal cell phone. With all of the attention his organisation is getting, Elsey is getting better at recognising celebrities. Two stints at the Sundance Film Festival will do that for you.

On an international level, Soles4Souls aims to address the needs of those who make their living scrounging around the garbage in landfills, orphans in Central and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia who have often never owned a pair of shoes in their entire lives and village women in rural Africa, America and Asia who have to several miles per day just to get water.

Within the US, they work towards alleviating the needs of those affected by natural disasters (a primary focus), addressing the needs of the poor in the Appalachia Mountains and providing shoes for abused and neglected children who attend special summer camps. They also focus on the needs of Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations, domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and inner city hospitals.

For all his famous connections, Elsey remains firmly grounded in the good work that his organisation does and says, “I’m just this guy who was running a company and started collecting shoes.” And unlike many people who proudly display their brushes with celebrity in photographs on their walls, Elsey chooses to display pictures of all the people he’s helped instead. Their smiles remind Elsey of the importance of his work and are reward enough for him.


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