Have you ever looked around and thought: 'I have way too much stuff?'
Just maybe you've got too many shoes. If you do, there’s a way that old, dusty pair at the back of your closet may be able to help someone here in the U.S. or on the other side of the world.
A national nonprofit, Soles4Souls, moved to the area this year. The organization collects gently used shoes and distributes them to people in poverty.
One girl who’s passionate about the work is just 17 years old. Rachel Bigej hasn't graduated high school yet, but the Canby girl has already made a big difference in people's lives.
“I decided to do a shoe drive. Through my community we raised about 500 pairs of shoes,” said Bigej.
That was her first shoe drive back in 2012 when she was only 10 years old. Those shoes were distributed around the world through Soles4Souls.
The nonprofit opened up a facility in Wilsonville this year.
“In our warehouse we have new product donated by retailers and manufacturers and we also have gently worn shoes that have been donated by community members,” said Brian Granfors, the Soles4Souls Oregon Regional Donation Center Manager.
On the day we visited, Columbia Sportswear staff and Rachel were volunteering. They sorted shoes the company donated. The types of shoes varied, from high tops to athletic shoes.
“Sadly, 80% of apparel and footwear that's bought is just tossed in the landfill. So it's just a huge waste,” said Scott Welch, a spokesperson for Columbia Sportswear who was also volunteering.
Here's how it works: companies like Columbia Sportswear, Keen, and Adidas donate new shoes that will be given to people in need in the United States and around the world.
“Since 2006 Soles4Souls has distributed more than 35-million pairs of new and gently worn shoes in 127 countries,” said Granfors.
The gently worn shoes that volunteers like Rachel collect, help support small businesses in different countries. They go to people who need help making money, selling the shoes for cash, so they can buy basic necessities for their families.
“Just to put it in perspective, that one pair of shoes donated to Soles4Souls can help generate enough income for a family to provide five meals for their family,” Granfors said.
This year, Rachel saw just how helpful the shoes really are. She hosted another shoe drive, then went to the Dominican Republic to help distribute shoes.
“The whole time I was there, when you're fitting kids for shoes and you're washing their feet, and then you give them the pair of shoes, and just seeing they’re so much happier,” she said.
The shoes are helpful in preventing disease, getting to school, even feeling a sense of pride.
“It attacks poverty at such a different angle and it also deals with waste in our country,” said Rachel.
At its core, Soles4Souls is all about people with plenty, giving to people in poverty.
“Even just one pair of shoes can save a person's life or give them a chance to get education and get out of the cycle of poverty,” Rachel said.
Soles4Souls has only been in the area for about six months, but Granfors said support has been so strong they're looking into possibly moving into a bigger space.
The facility in Wilsonville is one of six around the country. Granfors said Soles4Souls is also expanding internationally.
He said the organization chose the Portland area in order to be closer to companies that donate and to be closer to a larger metropolitan area with more people who can donate.
If you’re interested in getting involved, there are plenty of drop off locations if you've got a couple pairs to give.
For instance, Rachel's parents own Al's Garden Center stores locally. They've put shoe donation boxes at their locations.
Businesses and people can do the same by hosting a shoe drive.
For more information, visit the Soles4Souls website.