Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Salem (MA) Store Collects Shoes for Soles4Souls

Store's shoe collection good for the sole

By Cate Lecuyer
staff writer, The Salem News

BEVERLY — Most people have extra sneakers lying around.

And most people throw them out when they clean out their closets, said Wes Lassen, manager of New England Running Company.

However, he hopes that will change. The business recently began collecting gently worn shoes. People can drop them off in a bin, and they'll go to charity.

"It's giving it to needy kids all over the world," Lassen said.

Over the years, many customers have asked if the business recycles shoes, so they decided to start, he said.

New England Running Company has partnered with Soles4Souls, a Tennessee nonprofit that donates more than 4 million pairs of shoes a year to underprivileged people in more than 70 countries.

Although New England Running specializes in sneakers, Soles4Souls welcomes any kind of shoes, from women's dress to hiking boots, said Chris Carmichael, communications director for the nonprofit. Children's athletics are in particularly high demand.

"Kids grow out of shoes so fast, and it's something we're always in need of," Carmichael said.

The organization formed after the 2004 tsunami that devastated coastal areas around the Indian Ocean and killed more than 200,000 people. Carmichael said the donations now go many different people, including victims of natural disasters, those living in extreme poverty, and women overcoming domestic violence.

"It's one of the most simple yet profound gifts you can make, because it will greatly improve someone's life in the most difficult of times," said founder and CEO Wayne Elsey.

Carmichael said the donations should be in good shape.

"The general rule of thumb is anything you would wear yourself," he said. But if you think they belong in the trash, send them anyway. If they're unusable, instead of throwing them out, the nonprofit grinds them up into a soft rubber and asphalt material that's used to surface playgrounds and running tracks.

Lassen estimates New England Running has collected close to 200 shoes so far and is hoping for more.

"We've filled that bin up three times in the last three weeks," he said. "The word is spreading."

Staff writer Cate Lecuyer can be reached at clecuyer@salem

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