Bayview Elementary Laketown Elementary Southview Elementary Waconia High School Waconia Middle School

Reprinted with permission from the Waconia Patriot

By Al Lohman

How many pairs of shoes are in your closet?

Student Emma Ziesemer figures she has up to 40 pairs in her closet. Classmate Nicole Shoutz has a bunch too.

This month, the Waconia High School juniors will be donating several pairs to a cause called Soles4Souls and they are hoping other students, parents and residents around School District 110 do too.

The young women are members of the WHS International Club, which during the month of January is collecting shoes for those in need. The pair are coordinating a district-wide campaign for Soles4Souls, hoping to collect 4,000 pairs of shoes by Jan. 31.

Soles4Souls is a non-profit social enterprise based in Nashville, Tenn., that creates jobs and provides relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing around the world.

The International Club comprises 30-40 students, many who take a foreign language in school. The group meets weekly to learn about other cultures, sample foods, mark holidays and tackle projects.

“We are super excited about doing this drive because there’s more to shoes than something on your feet or a fashion statement,” said Ziesemer.

And the shoe drive is more tangible than just giving money to a cause, she adds.

While individuals in this community generally have easy access to shoes, that’s not the case in many developing nations around the globe, students learned in their research.

In places like Haiti and several countries in Africa and South America, walking is the primary mode of transportation and a good pair of shoes made available at affordable prices can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Good footwear can help children attend school, adults work, and shoes can protect against injury, disease and unsanitary conditions. Since it began in 2006, Soles4Souls has distributed over 35 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries.

The organization also helps create jobs by providing new and gently worn shoes as a resource to help people start and sustain a small business of their own selling shoes within their local community. Some also do shoe repair. Selling shoes generates income for business owners to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Repurpose shoes are donated to Soles4Souls by individuals, shoe drives and footwear companies. Once collected and sorted, Soles4Souls transports the shoes to vetted nonprofit organizations in developing nations, which purchase them for an average of $1 per pair.

“We really want to collect as many shoes as possible to make the biggest impact,” Ziesemer said.

Ziesemer and Schoutz started planning for the shoe drive back in October. They researched the organization, met with the area coordinator for Soles4Souls and school principals to get their buy-in, and started to work on promotional materials.

Now comes the fun part, the students say – the drive itself.

“Boxes at every school have been overflowing!” Shoutz said excitedly.

As shoes come in Ziesemer, Schoutz and other International Club volunteers collect them from the schools, match and bind pairs together, and will eventually deliver them to a regional collection spot in Brooklyn Park, Minn. The shoes are currently being stored in a locker room at the high school.

In the first full week of the drive, students collected 325 pairs of shoes.

Anyone can donate and shoes in any condition are welcome. Drop off shoes at collection boxes in any District 110 school – high school, middle school, Bayview, Southview or Laketown by the end of January.