Generosity: Is there a West Coast movement toward sharing soles?


Young people in Uganda get shoes There must have been some rare alignment of the stars in southern California three years ago. It was then and there that Blake Mycoskie started TOMS—the company I profiled yesterday that gives away as many shoes as it sells. (Scroll down to read about TOMS.) It was also then and there that another generous shoe-related venture was created: “Share Our Soles.”
    Here’s the Share Our Soles Web site, where you can read a lot more. The photo at right today illustrates some of the S.O.S. work in Africa.

Share Our Soles—also known as S.O.S.—was founded in 2006 by Greg Woodburn, a sophomore at the University of Southern California. The charity “is dedicated to collecting, and then washing and donating used (but in good condition) running shoes to underprivileged youth in distant nations and local inner-city communities.”

Did you catch that “washing” part? This effort has several interesting twists on the TOMS idea of a simple donation of new shoes connected with each sale. Here, Greg is adding different ideas about recycling, charitable giving—and a connection with hard work. Yes, that “washing” is hard work—and it’s a value Greg specifically connects with this innovation in generosity.

The idea seems workable. So far, S.O.S has given away over 3,250 pairs of running shoes to kids in Los Angeles, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. For many recipients, these are the first shoes they have ever owned—never mind running shoes.

Adversity gave birth to this Greg’s idea of generosity—a story he tells on the organization’s web site. Greg is an avid runner, but in 2006 he was sidelined for months due to injuries. His family taught him that the best way to overcome personal adversity is to help others, he says. “I started thinking about underprivileged kids who couldn’t enjoy this great sport—not because of injury, but simply because they couldn’t afford running shoes.”

With the help of family, friends, and fellow athletes, he surpassed his goal of 100 pairs of running shoes by Christmas 2006, collecting and cleaning over 500 pairs. Shoes are shipped by Sports Gift, a non-profit that donates sports equipment to impoverished kids around the world.

Greg cleans almost all the running shoes himself. In a story carried by Reader’s Digest, he says, “People think of it as dirty work. But I like doing it. It’s not work I want to pass off on someone else.”
There’s that theme again! Generosity should involve some “dirty work,” Greg says. Or, at least, this effort feels better to him because he’s active in a hands-on way.

His experience in 2006 inspired him to turn the enterprise into a full-time effort. “Helping others overcome their problems has brought me joy and perspective,” he says. “Joy in hearing from orphanages in Africa that the lives of many kids have been turned from violence and drugs towards school and family simply by reminding them, through a pair of shoes, that they are loved.”
    So, what do you think of this idea? Greg is unlikely to get nearly as many shoes to needy people as the bigger TOMS effort, but perhaps there are values in Greg’s idea that are important as well, even if they’re smaller in scale.
What do you think? Please, our readers would love to hear from you!

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