In the Community
Share Your Soles
Mona Purdy, Founder and CEO
by Stephen Miwa
Be the change you wish to see in the world – Gandhi
This is a message the creator of Share Your Soles (SYS), Mona Purdy, has been spreading for the last 17 years. A single mother of 3 when she started SYS- Mona, who became a first-time grandmother on the morning of our interview, and Share Your Soles have now given over 2 million pairs of shoes to those in need all over the globe.
Mona, an active cyclist and runner at the time, used to train with a cycling team from Guatemala whenever they were in town. She was talking to one of her friends on the team, and found out that many people from the team’s area did not have pedals for their bikes. Mona decided to tell everyone she knows and collect many things that the people of the community desperately needed. After she collected everything she could, instead of shipping it down there, she bought a plane ticket to Guatemala to deliver it herself. She heard about a half marathon one of the locals was putting on, and she decided to run it. Come race day, it was a sweltering hundred degrees. She noticed that she was the only runner with shoes on because none of the locals could afford any. Throughout the race, there would be little kids running along and cheering. Not knowing if they were even running in the race, she was not sure if they were simply a local cheering section. Mona noticed that they did not have any shoes on either, but some had tar on the bottom of their feet instead.
On her flight back to America, Mona was sitting next to an orthopedic surgeon. He and Mona got to talking, and he told her that many children are not allowed to go to school because they do not have any shoes. That caught Mona off guard and upset her quite a bit, and then she inquired as to why he had been traveling to Guatemala. The surgeon informed her that he visits often to remove the feet of people who have gotten abbesses and infections in their feet and legs from having to walk around everywhere with no shoes on… all of the time. Having never known any of this prior to her trip, it really made her rethink priorities and things that people in the states take for granted on a daily basis.
When Mona got home and told her children about it, one of Mona’s daughters offered to give up one of the two pairs of shoes that she owned and told Mona that she needed to take it back down to Guatemala and give it to someone. Originally setting a goal of 1,000 pairs of shoes, Mona blew past that and collected 5,000 pairs. She was able to get the shoes down to Guatemala through the help of the generosity of American Airlines. While giving away all of the shoes at an orphanage, one of the nuns anxiously asked when she was coming back. At that second, she thought that would be the only trip, but she told us that the feeling she felt while giving away the entire first collection was priceless. So she kept doing it. Over and over again. She got a board together and organized the charity, and now Share Your Soles is turning the calendar on its 17th year.
Sending shoes to 40 locations globally, including right here in America, Mona used to be going on trips once a month. Now, however, she does much more lecturing and public speaking to kids all over America.
“Our kids here have no idea what a bad day is.” She continues, “They don’t know a good day because they have never had a bad one.”
When people come to the donation and sorting center, they are shown videos about where the shoes go. Mona wants everyone who is helping not just to be there, but to have an emotional experience about the good being done.
Mona continued to tell us more about the organization and how it works, specifically about “Will Learn to Earn” and “”Will Work to Earn.” These are programs that every single recipient must complete in order to receive a pair of shoes. The “Will Learn to Earn” program is for children where they must complete an academic challenge. “Will Work to Earn” is for adults where they must do acts of kindness or good deeds in their village or community. Once an individual has met the requirements, they are given a voucher that they get to redeem for a pair of shoes. Mona tells me that these programs were put into place so that every individual helps themselves and others accomplish more good in the world than just providing shoes to those in need. Truly, SYS is making the world a better place.
Mona reflected on her all-time favorite story. She goes on to tell me about a trip she made to Peru to a little boy’s orphanage. At the SYS facility, shoes are sorted by type, packaged, labeled, and then sent to their final destination- in this case it was Peru. The box was marked “Boy’s School Shoes.” Mona happened to be at the orphanage… everyone was standing back… the kids were all loudly clapping…and everyone was filled with excitement. When the box was opened, Mona saw that it was mislabeled and actually filled with girl’s school shoes instead. She wanted to hide with embarrassment, but then notices that everyone was still clapping and happy. Searching to figure out what she may have missed in translation, she talked to the teachers who told her that these kids have never had a pair of shoes before and that they were all excited just to have a pair of their own now. All of the shoes were passed out, but not everyone received a pair. Mona reflected that even the boys who did not receive a pair were still happy, cheering, and supporting the group - just because they were happy for those who were lucky enough to get a pair.
Share Your Soles has grown from only collecting shoes to also collecting certain needed medical equipment, per the needs she has seen in all the communities she has been to. They have also started building a library in Uganda and collecting books to fill its shelves when it is completed. With this growth in mind, Mona expressed to us what her plans are to keep Share Your Soles thriving when she has to step away from it all, at some time in the future. She exuberantly responded, “Step up!” She explains that there are many people on the board now that were high school students, who heard her speak, and the charitable concept was so impactful to them, that they, too, got the bug to be involved and make a difference. Someone that used to work on her driveway while in high school went on to graduate from Harvard and is now on the board. The impact truly never ends.
Share Your Soles is now involved and connected to many high schools and colleges, and she hopes that these connections will help to motivate people to take her spot one day. “Hopefully it will go on and on and on and on, “ Mona tells us. We hope it does too.
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