Did you know that more than 300 million people around the world are living without shoes? We are fortunate in this nation to have as much as we do. Of course, I say this fully understanding that in our wealthy country, millions will sleep tonight hungry. We certainly have to do better as a nation. But, beyond our borders, there is also great poverty. And, because of it, being barefoot is not a choice to hundreds of millions.
Add to that the reality that in our country and around the world, people have so many needs. And, also, that our planet is in great need of saving. The ongoing reality is that there’s so much that we have to do.
Being Barefoot After the 2004 Tsunami
Over the recent holiday season, I remembered how I got from the day, December 26, 2004, to here. I got reminded of it all having gotten my license plates this past holiday that read “SHOEMAN.” I’ve been in the shoe industry for decades. But, it was the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific countries that changed my life. I saw the horror of what happened to people after the tsunami. As a guy in the shoe business, I realized what being barefoot meant to the millions of survivors.
Living without shoes means risking disease. It’s something that should only happen if someone makes a choice. However, after the tsunami and through subsequent natural disasters, humans continue to find themselves in great need of the simplest things. Poverty is also a reality that harms people and has 300 million people around living without shoes.
An Idea Becomes a Reality
After the tsunami, I started a nonprofit and then a social enterprise, Funds2Orgs. That organization has grown to the largest for-profit company. Funds2Orgs was my destiny after seeing the devastation of people living without shoes through disasters and because of poverty. It was in visits to developing nations that I witnessed many people without the funds to buy a cheap pair of shoes. I decided I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t figure out how to create a win/win situation.
Because of the work of my team and I, we witness incredible things every day. Through Funds2Orgs and our other shoe drive fundraising brands, we have met incredible partners in the U.S. They have wanted to raise money with shoe drive fundraisers. And, we’ve wanted to collect their shoes so we can develop opportunities for people living without shoes and micro-entrepreneurs.
Overcoming Living Without Shoes
I’ll share with you a bit of what I’ve seen when being barefoot is not a choice. One of the most memorable experiences of my life was placing the first pair of shoes on the feet of an older man. He never owned a single pair of shoes in all of his years. He was simply too impoverished. Yet, I will always remember the smile on his face and the pride he felt when I correctly fitted him with a pair of shoes.
If you follow my writings, then you know that social good is a passion of mine. You may also know that one of the stories I often tell is of Silvia. I met her after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. She was a single mom with a young son. It was through sheer force of will that she pulled through that experience—after losing all their material possessions. Being barefoot was the least of it because they lost so much. Still, in the years since, she has a thriving business selling shoes collected in shoe drive fundraisers. I’m happy to report her son went to college.
Finding Hope in the Work
I enjoy working in the social good sector. And because of it, I’ve had many immense honors. However, the highest honor I have every day is doing what I do. It’s having the chance to meet incredible nonprofit, church, and school leaders seeking a creative fundraiser. I also have the honor of working with an incredible global team of people. And, most importantly, I continue to have the chance to create opportunities for people to help themselves out of poverty by selling shoes. As a result of our work, my hope is fewer people are living without shoes.
Finally, as the world focuses on climate change and going green, I’m happy to have the chance to keep shoes out of the trash. My life took a different path after the 2004 tsunami. It wasn’t what I would have expected. But, I found my passion. And, at the start of 2020, I hope you, too, continue or find the path in your life. Maybe, like me, it could be helping those living without shoes and creating opportunities for them.
© 2020 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.