When the 2004 tsunami struck Southeast Asia, Wayne Elsey was president of Kodiak-Terra USA Footwear. One night while watching the news on television filter in about the storm, he was struck by the image of a lone shoe washed up on the beach.
That image struck a nerve, which compelled him to create Soles4Souls to deliver donated shoes to help the disaster victims who had lost everything. He knew, based on industry research, that there are over 1.5 billion pairs of shoes in our closets that we never wear. So Elsey got on the phone with his colleagues throughout the footwear industry, and together they shipped 1/4 million pairs of shoes to communities ravaged by the tsunami.
Since then, Nashville-based Soles4Souls has shipped over 15,400,000 pairs of shoes around the globe. Elsey also created Get off the Couch, a popular blog detailing his and others’ thoughts about everything from non-profit leadership to life balance.
When HSMAI MEET National kicks off on September 7 in Washington DC, it will be the first time the annual conference has partnered with Soles4Souls. The charity is delivering a Smart Car (painted like a shoe) to the conference that will be displayed prominently at the event, with the goal to fill up the car with donated shoes.
So we called up Juli Jones, vice president of HSMAI, and Elizabeth Kirk, director of communications for Soles4Souls, to learn a little bit more about the partnership, which you can also explore at HSMAI MEET’s CSR page.
Q: Juli, what was the motivation behind hooking up with Soles4Souls for HSMAI MEET?
JJ: Over 40 HSMAI chapters in the Americas alone have been involved with lots of community organizations and service organizations at the local level for many, many years. But we’ve never done that with our big show, and this year we thought, this is our biggest opportunity to assemble the largest number of people. So if we can really motivate and mobilize those 2,000 people in DC, we can make a pretty big impact.
Q: How have the local chapter events evolved over the years?
JJ: More and more people are interested in participating ever year it seems. These kinds of efforts give people a taste of what’s out there and how easy it is to contribute, and hopefully take some of the mystique out of it…. So that they can say, ‘That was easy, I’m going to go home and help package food or read to a kid or collect shoes.’
Q: We feel that it’s kind of safe to assume that almost anyone reading this has an extra pair of shoes in their closet they haven’t worn in a year. So it shouldn’t be too much effort to fill the Smart Car, don’t you think?
JJ: Oh, holy cow, my office is filling up right now just with contributions from our office. Also, the show management company for MEET is J. Spargo & Associates. They and HSMAI’s management company, Coulter Companies, are helping out with donations too.