Why You Should Donate Your Old Kicks
If you live in the United States and collect sneakers, you probably hold onto your kicks as long as you can. You keep them clean. You take Instagram pics of them. If you’re a Sneakerhead, you own at least 30 pairs (and they’re all in their original boxes). The last thing you’d do is get rid of them. In Guatemala, the sneaker culture is a little different. In fact, most children don’t own a single pair.
The country of Guatemala is located in Central America bordering Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras, and has a population of almost 16 million people. Due to three decades of civil war from 1960 to 1996, the country suffers from high levels of poverty, crime, and drug trade.
Last month, I met Shelby Ausband - a recent Ole Miss grad who started a sneaker donation nonprofit organization called Pur[SHOE]ing Joy. Their goal is to donate 20,000 shoes to Guatemalans in need.
Two years ago, the Georgia native moved to Guatemala after graduating from The University of Mississippi. She committed a year to live in a country where she knew no one and spoke no Spanish. Her goal was to gain medical experience so that she could eventually go to nursing school.
“Within the first week of living in Guatemala, I was giving colonoscopies, endoscopies, and anesthesia,” said Ausband. Equipped with just a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition, she was handling procedures only doctors in the United States are authorized to perform.
Ausband would arrive at the local hospital around 8:00 AM and work until 2:00 PM. She would then head to Spanish lessons at a coffee shop or walk with her Spanish tutor to the market or a surrounding village. “I began realizing that my knowledge in nutrition was greatly needed and valued there,” noted Ausband.
One day, she was with her Spanish tutor in a village called Magdalena and met a mother named Karina. Pregnant with her tenth child, Karina and her family live in a hut with mud floors, a roof with holes, and just two mattresses for the ten children plus Mom and Dad.
“The father was suffering from addiction. The foundation of the home was washing away with the rain. There was only a pound of rice left to feed the entire family for the next month. In the neighboring village, it was the same story,” said Ausband.
Shelby was overwhelmed by the needs of Karina and her family, and wanted to do something about it. After hours of questions and conversation with Karina, she realized the root of the problem was the lack of education.
"Karina, I’d like to help send all of your kids to school." said Ausband. Karina responded saying, "Thank you, but my kids cannot go because they do not own shoes." Ausband realized there was another root issue besides the lack of schooling.
Though Karina’s children needed an education, they needed shoes even more. Without shoes, children are unable to walk to school or go to work (the average Guatemalan child leaves school and starts working at the age of 12). Even if a child made it to school, they wouldn’t be allowed in due to foot infections and the illnesses that could spread to other students.
In that moment, Pur[SHOE]ing Joy was born. Shelby gave away her hot pink pair of Nike running shoes to the oldest son with the hopes that he could step in and be the fatherly figure that this family needed. The joy on his face was priceless, and it was the fuel that helped launch Ausband’s new endeavor.
After Ausband posted the story on her blog, e-mails started pouring in. Realizing she would need help getting her new organization off the ground, she met up for dinner with a college friend, Ty New. New was building homes in Guatemala at the time and was interested in helping. By the end of their meal, New joined Pur[SHOE]ing Joy as the new President.
Today, almost two years later, Ausband, New, and their team have given away over 15,000 pairs of used shoes to the people of Guatemala. They’ve added two additional members, (Daniel and Carlos) and have an incredible Board of Directors.
With each pair of shoes donated, Pur[SHOE]ing Joy asks that the giver leave his or her name in a bag with the shoes. When the shoes find their “Sole Mate” in Guatemala, the giver and receiver are connected through their website; a picture of the Guatemalan is featured wearing their new shoes, officially making them “Sole Mates.”
“Most of us wake up every morning and decide which pair of shoes we want to wear today. As Guatemalans, it’s difficult to go to school, get a job, or play sports because they do not own a single pair,” said Ausband.
If you have a pair of sneakers that you’re thinking of trashing, or if you’re thinking of cleaning out your closet, consider donating your old kicks to Pur[SHOE]ing Joy. You’ll be giving someone an opportunity they may not have had before.
Pur[SHOE]ing Joy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia. To learn how you can get involved and donate, go to http://purshoeingjoy.org