Charity Aims to Create World's Largest Tower of Shoes

An international charity focused on providing shoes to the needy will host a shoe drive to build the "World's Largest Tower of Shoes."

Soles4Souls is partnering with the shopping mall Opry Mills in Nashville to host the holiday shoe drive that will begin Nov. 5 and conclude on Dec. 31. They are asking Tennesseans and out-of-town visitors to come to the mall and to "step up" and help those in need during the holiday season.

People are asked to recycle their gently worn shoes or to donate $2.00 for a new pair of shoes.

"This is a creative and effective way for us to spread the message of our organization," said Soles4Souls founder and CEO Wayne Elsey. "The amount of support we've received from local businesses and individuals has been incredible, and with their help, we are looking forward to breaking the world record for most shoes collected in a single event."

The "Step Up" shoe drive was inspired by a young boy, named Joseph Wells, who held his own shoe drive last year. In a letter he wrote, he said he wanted to be a pair of shoes that would always fit if he could use magic to transform himself into any Christmas gift.

"I know it sounds crazy, but there are people all over the world who can't afford a pair of shoes. I would give myself to a child in a country called Haiti," Wells wrote.

"The people in this country are so poor that they can't even afford a pair of shoes and they cannot go to school if they aren't wearing shoes."

It is estimated that Americans have 1.5 billions pairs of unworn shoes lying in their closets while over 300 billion children around the world have never owned a pair of shoes.

Opry Mills merchants are helping out with the campaign, with some stores agreeing to offer their customers discounts for donated shoes.

Each store will collect the shoes and each week the shoes will be added to the main collection site in the mall. Clear panels are being installed around the 12-foot tall shoe tower.

Soles4Souls is based in Nashville and was founded by Wayne Elsey, who was formerly an executive at a large footwear company. The idea for Soles4Souls was conceived after the 2004 tsunami that hit southeast Asia. Elsey watched the aftermath of the tsunami on TV and felt compelled to do something, but didn't know what. Then he saw on TV a single shoe wash up on the beach, which sparked the idea for the charity.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Elsey called executives he knew in the footwear industry and sent over a million pairs of shoes to the gulf coast communities. The group worked with local churches to distribute the shoes to victims affected by Katrina.

Soles4Souls continues to receive donations from footwear companies, retailers, churches, nonprofit ministries, civic groups, schools and individuals.