Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Soles4Souls to Add Clothes (Tennesseean Article)

Soles4Souls to add clothes
Elsey's vision expands to include initiatives

By Andy Humbles • THE TENNESSEAN • November 18, 2009

5 years ago on Dec. 26, Old Hickory's Wayne Elsey had an idea that led to the establishment of Soles4Souls, the Donelson-based nonprofit projected to donate more than 6 million shoes worldwide by year's end.

"We don't want to celebrate a disaster.'' Elsey said, referring to the 2004 Asian tsunami. "We want to forge forward.''

So, the international footwear charity is making plans to expand its services to include clothes, Elsey said.

Clothes4Soles could be launched in the next 12 months, according to initial business plans.

The nonprofit will continue to donate and distribute shoes. It has set a goal of distributing 30 million pairs of shoes in the next five years — five times more than what has already gone out. Numerous celebrities have associated their names and helped with fundraising events for Soles4Souls.

Clothes4Soles would operate as a separate brand, distributing clothing that is donated in similar fashion to how shoes are given. Details still are being worked out, Elsey said.

Toys, perhaps even food will be considered for distribution in the future, Elsey said.

Soles4Souls is already a charity many celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, Amy Grant, Kellie Pickler and Jeff Fisher have signed on to help.
Several new marketing concepts and initiatives already have started as the organization looks ahead.

• A trial recycling program is underway in Georgia that Soles4Souls hopes could spread to other areas of the country including Nashville. Georgia has more than 200 recycling centers that include shoe collection for Soles4Souls.
• A much more aggressive marketing approach includes Soles4Souls aiming to reach a younger demographic with a Facebook and Twitter presence. Web advertising spots have included celebrities.
• Locally this fall Soles4Souls launched its Step Up Nashville campaign encouraging businesses to place a collection box at their office or store or to organize an employee or customer-run fundraiser.
There was also a billboard campaign that emphasized a mobile giving program to guide people to finding a nearby supporter of Soles4Souls.

On the week of Thanksgiving, Soles4Souls will organize foot care treatments for men at 35-40 rescue missions around the country and facilitate a donation of socks and a pair of Red Wing shoes.

• A new micro-business model to help individuals and families in countries where there is extreme poverty to create their own business.

The micro-business model starts with Soles4Souls giving out 100 used shoes for free. Then it charges $1 a pair after that.

Those receiving shoes can then sell those shoes or trade them for food and materials. Countries Soles4Souls is utilizing the micro-business model in include Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Jordan and Georgia.

"This is in regions that are extremely poor, and people set up shops in huts and are raising their income level to $15-$20 per day instead of $2 or nothing,'' Elsey said. "What we're doing is instead of giving handouts, we helpthem to make money. It costs us about 85 cents per pair and it's an excellent way to take used shoes and made good business for everyone.''

Soles4Souls operates on new and gently used shoes donated by the public, new shoes from footwear companies and monetary gifts, donations, grants and corporate sponsorships.

Churches and businesses regularly have had collection boxes and organized collection times for Soles4Souls. The organization sets up special collection times as well, some that can collaborate with other big events.

Launching Soles4Souls

After Wayne Elsey saw a single shoe on the shoreline while watching a news report at home in Old Hickory on the tsunami in 2004, Elsey, Old Hickory dentist Nelson Wilson and his brother Paul Wilson helped raise 250,000 pairs of shoes partnering with area churches for those affected by the tsunami.

A similar effort was launched by Elsey and the Wilsons for Hurricane Katrina, which led to the establishment of Soles4Souls as a formal nonprofit organization in 2006.
Elsey eventually left his position as president of Kodiak-Terra USA Inc. to become the chief executive officer of Soles4Souls.

Nelson Wilson is still a Soles4Souls board member, and Paul Wilson is the president of the organization's world outreach division out of Alabama.

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