Donate your unwanted shoes to people in need

Do you have shoes you’ve never really worn taking up space in your closet? Are there tennis shoes that are too small for your son’s feet but with life still in them lingering under his bed? Would you be willing to donate these shoes to charity so someone who can’t afford shoes or who has lost all in a natural disaster can have a pair to wear to school or to work or to safely walk down the street?

Soles4Souls is a charity that collects shoes that are cluttering up your closet and distributes them to people in need throughout the world. Search through your shoe collection, and then drop off your and your family’s unwanted shoes at a Soles4Souls collection site near you.

This organization came across my path when my friend and professional organizer Scott Roewer started collecting shoes for the victims of the Haitian earthquake. More than two million people remain homeless in Haiti, and Scott is traveling with Soles4Souls to help deliver the shoes he collects — and thousands more — in an upcoming shipment to the country.

As you put away your summer shoes and shine up your winter boots, check to see if there are any lightly worn shoes cluttering up your closet that could make a difference in the life of someone in need. You can get rid of clutter and help someone at the same time.

18 Comments for “Donate your unwanted shoes to people in need”

  1. posted by Ang on

    I’m pleased to see that they accept “gently worn” shoes, because we were always told that donations [to other charities] had to be new shoes only. I will certainly look into this one – thanks for sharing!

  2. posted by alice on

    Is there a place for shoes that are pretty well-worn? I always wonder if they could be upcycled somehow, and I don’t want to simply add to the landfill, but the prospects for old shoes seem pretty dismal.

  3. posted by Pam R. on

    Alice, Nike has a “reuse-a-shoe” program where they take old and unwearable athletic shoes and grind them up for playground fill for children in impoverished areas. Our local athletic shoe store has a bin from time to time where they collect for the program. You might be able to find something like that near you. You can check for more information on the Nike website. As for non-athletic shoes, I’m still trying to figure out what to do about that. Hope this helps!

  4. posted by Tabatha on

    also if you have old worn shoes, call your local Goodwill if you have one and ask if they salvage unwearable shoes. The one I used to work for did, along with books, clothes, and stuffed animals.

  5. posted by nate on

    “For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid! Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.”

    –Quote from Kenyan economist James Shikwati. Full interview is with Shikwati is here:

    Just something to consider.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @nate — Do you know Shikwati and his work? Because if you do, then you are aware that he’s against governments sending other governments money — state-sponsored aid that transfers power and backs corrupt African governments. He’s a libertarian, in favor of private charities and businesses doing work, not governments. He’s in favor of free enterprise. He’s not against private programs that help people FIND JOBS (like Soles4Souls does since it gives people shoes so they can go to interviews and work every day). Before you quote someone, you should at least be aware of his political and economic beliefs and the context surrounding his statements.

    Additionally, Shikwati is African. He’s not Haitian. Shikwati does not speak on behalf of the people of a nation an ocean away from where he lives. Shikwati does not speak for the people whose homes were destroyed, families lost, and society demolished by an earthquake last January. The people of Haiti have pleaded for the rest of the world to help rebuild their country and provide basic supplies — like shoes — to get them back on their feet.

    Feel welcome not to donate shoes to Soles4Souls, it’s fully your choice what to do with your possessions. However, you might want to avoid using Shikwati’s words as your justification for your behavior.

  7. posted by Scott Roewer on

    Erin – thanks for sharing this with your readers.

    @Alice – actually – well worn shoes are welcome as well. S4S actually gives those shoes to individuals who have received training in shoe repair and cleaning. They repair the shoes and resell them. This not only creates jobs, and small business training for these individuals, it also stimulates the economy in these countries.

    @Pam – the Nike program is great – I’ve also collected for their efforts in the past. ANY type of shoe is accepted by Soles4Souls. If they receive high heels, those are kept and distributed in the US for women who are possibly in shelters or low income and looking to apply for/interview for jobs. The rest are managed in their repair or distribution programs.

    Thanks to anyone who supports S4S in the future. To find a donation bin in your area, visit
    If you live in DC, NOVA or MD – perhaps we can connect and I’ll add them to my collection for donation.

    You’re also welcome to make a tax deductible donation to S4S in my name to help with the trip to Haiti.

    Warm regards,
    Scott Roewer

  8. posted by Terri Hamilton on

    Gosh, I hang onto shoes until they’re broken down & worn out. Sometimes even then, at least until I can afford to replace them. I have never understood people purchasing shoes and then not wearing them, they’re too expensive for that, for me. ==Oh wait… maybe I can relate it to the way I purchase books. (far more than I can ever read)== I guess each has their own weakness, LOL

  9. posted by John on

    While I do appreciate what these charities are trying to do, I think they can do more harm than good (with stipulations). Shoes are a short-term solution which can cause long-term problems. Better use of funds would be sending food, medical, or education aid.

    When you don’t wear shoes (many of the people the charities are sending to grew up without shoes) the soles of your feet become thicker, and much tougher. Your feet are covered with a thick natural leather that self heals.

    The problems start when people who have not worn shoes in a long time (or all their lives) start to wear shoes. The thick sole of your foot will begin to crack and soften in the constant moisture of the shoe.

    The cracking of the sole is an immediate problem, it can allow an infection to form in the foot (shoes are great breeding grounds for bacteria and fungus). Many of the countries that the shoes are sent to do not have great medical care, especially for the poor; meaning that an infection will most likely go untreated.

    The softening of the sole is a long-term problem. Once the shoes that they were given become unwearable, the recipient is forced to go shoeless again. With the softened sole the recipient is in greater risk of cuts and punctures to the bottom of their feet; resulting, again, in probable infection. This problem can be solved by making sure the recipient will always have a pair of donated shoes (but how likely is that?).

    If the schools are so demanding that the children wear shoes, why not donate directly to the schools? That way the schools just handout shoes to the children as they come into the building, but retrieve them at the end of the school day. Maybe I’m a dreamer on this one.

    Please note my comments relate only to shoes sent into areas where shoes are uncommon, and going barefoot is the norm.

  10. posted by Soles4Souls on

    We are so grateful that you have highlighted us as a way for people to unclutter their closets and get rid of the shoes that they never wear, changing lives in the process!

  11. posted by bobbin on

    Well I am Haitian, and in general (not specific to the crisis caused by the earthquake) the country is inundated with used clothing and shoes. This creates a local economy of small resellers rather than skilled craftspeople. It is the equivalent of how skilled jobs in the US are sent overseas and now Walmart/McD’s type jobs are the best some can hope for. How can skilled seamstresses, tailors and shoemakers compete with cheap American rags? It is not unlike the way the US gov’t sent its surplus grains and destroyed the country’s food sovereignty.

    I’m not against the instinct to prevent usable things from flooding the landfills, but we have to stop thinking that poor people should be grateful for our castoffs.

  12. posted by Erin Doland on

    @bobbin — None of our connections on Haiti who survived the earthquake currently have internet access. Where are you on the island?

    I agree that US government aid policies are awful and that the US government is messed up to the Nth degree. However, are you implying that when our connections on Haiti call asking for enough pair of shoes for their families you believe I should tell them “no” because I dislike US foreign aid programs that stifle innovation and business? Because the reality is that our friends and family on Haiti are calling and asking for a lot more than shoes, and I’m not willing to turn my back on them.

  13. posted by bobbin on

    @Erin: Actually I’m based in the states.

    Like I said, my comment was not specific to post-quake Haiti, but based on past observations and analysis. Even now, it would be great if we (in the States) could work on developing aid models not based on “giving a man a fish,” but rather on supporting the fishing industry. Haitians will need not just shoes, but productive work, in order to get back on their feet.

    Again though, I don’t mean to criticize the instinct to help, or to keep usable things out of landfills.

  14. posted by *pol on

    How about charity closer to home then?
    My local thrift stores support everything from aiding the homeless to the diabetes foundation to reading to the blind, women’s shelters and hopital fundraising. I just rotate which charity to take my shoes (and clothing) that still has life but doesn’t fit in MY life anymore. And I also SHOP at these places so it is a good feeling adding saleable merchandise to their selection AND save some money in their shops too. In this time of indulgent spending, there are more often than not new-used items that fit my children perfectly, and when my kids outgrow things before they are worn out, they go right back there for the next lucky frugal mom!

  15. posted by Pamela on

    Thank you Erin for posting this information on Soles4Souls! I have been looking for just this kind of charity.

  16. posted by Naomi on

    @pol: It’s possible to do both. I’ve donated regularly to an agency that helps refugees resettle in my area, but I also support the International Rescue Committee.

    It’s also worth noting that Soles4Souls helps Americans, too.

  17. posted by Scott Roewer on

    @John –

    Consider this information directly from the Soles4Souls website. Obviously they have thought this out and Shoes are a valuable asset to anyone.

    “Shoes help prevent the spread of parasitic diseases that plague over 1.4 billion people worldwide, and they are a basic human necessity.

    The reality of life for many individuals in developing nations is that having a pair of shoes is a rarity. It is not uncommon for children to grow up in these areas without ever having had a pair of shoes at all.

    The number of barefoot orphaned children, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, is estimated to be above 20 million.

    Over 300 million children worldwide are without shoes.

    Shoes are very often considered a required part of the school uniform in developing countries, and without shoes, many children are unable to attend school.

    Many serious health conditions can be absorbed through the feet, even through the toughest soles. As the skin on the bottom of the feet toughens and thickens, large cracks can form, which allows parasitic infections such as hookworm and threadworm to penetrate the skin. In addition, constant cuts and scrapes to the feet and ankles frequently become infected and many of these infections can lead to ulcers and worse.

    Some of the most dangerous conditions of going barefoot is the risk of puncture wounds, cuts, scrapes and burns to the feet. These injuries are almost never treated and can lead to serious infections, amputations and even death. With the number of children living in abject poverty and therefore surviving at a scavenger’s existence, the feet are at tremendous risk as the child hunts for food or household items in garbage dumps, abandoned housing/construction areas, or while crossing through open sewer trenches and contaminated areas.

    In addition to infections brought on by external injuries, a child’s bare foot is particularly at risk of infection by hookworm. Especially at risk are children living in African and Southeast Asian countries, where hookworm infections are about 60 times more common.”

  18. posted by Scott Roewer on

    @pol – I agree helping out locally is equally as important. I live next door to a Woman’s shelter. I’m constantly taking them items on their wish list my clients discard during their decluttering process. This includes shoes.

    I’m an active supporter of Dress for Success. This January after my trip to Haiti with Soles4Souls, I’ll be leading a team in the complete re-organization and make over of the local Dress for Success studio. Whenever my client have appropriate clothing to donate to this organization, I take it over there on my personal time. I agree – we should keep it local.

    With that in mind, Soles4Souls current is working in 45 States in the U.S. I’ve read (but can’t find the quote) that over 50% of their shoes stay here in the U.S.
    I’m not associated with S4S in anyway except someone who is passionate about giving back, and doing good in my community and beyond. I’m glad to know you’re helping in your own community.

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