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Local shops collect shoes for the needy

COVINGTON -- If you've got some shoes you're planning to discard, think twice before tossing them in the trash: Your old shoes could be the answer to someone's prayer.

That's the theory behind the mission of Soles4Souls, a charity based in Nashville, Tenn., that collects new and gently worn shoes from warehouses of footwear companies and the public and distributes them for free to people in need.

The organization recently partnered with the Georgia Recycling Coalition to place drop-off bins in locations across the state. Since October, nearly 50,000 pairs of shoes have been collected.

Two local businesses are participating in the program, having recently placed drop-off bins at their stores. Vanessa Virgin, owner of New Shoez, a shoe store on the Square in downtown Covington, was first to get involved and she encouraged Brenda and Wanda Pugh, owners of Brendale's Salon and Stuff next door, to follow suit.

"There's no reason a need should go unfilled when we have the resources somewhere in the world," Virgin said.

Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away more than 7 million new and gently worn shoes and distributed them in more than 125 countries, including the United States, Nepal, Thailand and Kenya.

The focus is on Haiti, with Soles4Souls committing to donating 1.3 million pairs of shoes to the survivors of the January earthquake.

Once the shoes are collected, they are sent to a distribution center where they are sorted by style, quality and season and sent to an appropriate location. Shoes that cannot be used are recycled.

According to the Soles4Souls Web site, any type of shoe is acceptable, as long as it is new or gently worn.

"I donated some boots. I don't think the kids in Haiti need boots so they may end up in New York or Europe or somewhere they need them," Virgin said. "They need every kind of shoe: Work shoes, dress shoes, red shoes, blue shoes, pink shoes, yellow shoes, pretty shoes. Ugliness is a matter of opinion, so ugly shoes, too. They're all needed."

In addition to helping out those in need, prolonging a shoe's lifespan can save landfill space. Nearly 300 million shoes end up in landfills each year, taking up to 40 years to break down and decompose.

"When Soles4Souls asked the Georgia Recycling Coalition for help, I knew this compassionate reuse project was a perfect match for us," said Georgia Recycling Coalition President Joe Dunlop. "We linked our members' recycling expertise, including logistics support from Whole Foods, with the grass-roots organizational skills of Georgia's Keep America Beautiful affiliates, and quickly began gathering shoes. Collecting 50,000 pairs in three months is amazing, but we hope to continue this effort, as there is clearly more than a one-time need for shoes."

Donations are tax deductible and can be made from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday at New Shoez, located at 1142 Monticello St. and from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Brendale's, located at 1144 Monticello St..

For more information, visit www.giveshoes.org.