"Shoes? Why shoes?

“What’s with the shoes?”

These are questions I’ve heard a lot lately. Valid questions, I admit. What is with the shoes?

I have been a professional shoe schlepper since April 1 — no fooling — though my official title is Executive Director of Congregation Shir Tikvah, a Reform-Renewal shul in Troy.

On any given day I’ve had anywhere from a couple to a couple dozen bags of new and gently used shoes in the trunk of my van. And sometimes the backseat. And sometimes the front seat. My kids are so used to it at this point that they have gone from asking if there are shoes in the car to assuming there are — and now just hoping they don’t have to sit with their backpacks in their laps.

So, what’s with all the shoes? Like all non-profit organizations, we’re always looking for ways to marshall resources for our work, while engaging our members and supporters along the way. We’ve done everything from garage sales to galas. We were even the fortunate co-beneficiaries of the Detroit premiere of Hamilton at the Fisher Theatre.

Consider those fancy shoes I wore for my “big night out” to see Hamilton? Even before the pandemic, those heels were relegated to a lonely corner of my closet, along with the cute pairs from Before Kids — four between the ages of 6 and 11 (kids, not shoes). Or for that matter, the heels I wore everyday when I worked in Corporate America that sit in my closet like a shrine to a former life. My life changed, but I still hung onto many of those shoes. I know I’m not alone in doing so. But why?

Because shoes are so much more than just shoes. They trace our steps in life. They are expressions of who we are at any given moment in time. They allow us to reinvent ourselves, or escape ourselves. Or they reflect a purpose or mission and act as vehicles to that destination. They accompany us on just about every journey we take through our lives. Potentially, if we are so lucky, requiring a different pair to fit each adventure.

Shir Tikvah is a community of doers. We often say we “pray with our feet” because of the active role the vast majority of our members take in social action and environmental initiatives. We had been looking for a covid-safe congregational initiative and were blown away by the social and environmental impact of ... shoes.

Shoe Us The Love was a way to engage the broader community around us to achieve a common goal, a shared purpose: helping others put their best foot forward, which, in turn, benefits our planet by reducing landfill waste.

Humans helping humans. G’milut chasadim.
Embarking on this endeavor has been extremely educational for me. It opened up my eyes to the world of micro-enterprise and the important role it plays in the developing world. Micro-enterprises are small businesses with minimal employees or capital. Given the barriers to quality education, jobs and training available in developing countries, micro-enterprises add value to the economy and offer a pathway out of poverty.

Roughly 70% of the global population relies on used goods from countries like the U.S. Entrepreneurs who receive shoes from our shoe drive, through our partner Funds2Orgs, will turn them from closet clutter into commerce.

Humans helping the earth. Tikkun Olam.
Repurposing shoes that are not being used by others not only gives them a second life, but it saves them from ending up in a landfill. Approximately 300 million pounds of shoes end up in U.S. landfills almost every year. Add to that the thought, if you will, that each pair of shoes represents a purpose — too often unfulfilled. There are so many souls who could benefit from those soles, not just have a little more comfort as they walk but also to realize our global interconnectedness as stewards of the earth.

This shoe drive is about so much more than just shoes. It’s about folks locally donating in a way that can have a global impact. It’s an opportunity to give back at a time when volunteer opportunities have been limited by the pandemic. It encourages us all to take a look at what we have, evaluate what we need, lighten our loads — and pay it forward to someone with different haves and needs but two feet just like us.

I’m humbled (tongue tied!) by the response from Shir Tikvah members, friends, family, neighbors, Jewish Moms of Metro Detroit Facebook Group members … the list goes on.

Our original goal was to collect 2,500 pairs of shoes over the course of April and May. We just hit 3,300 pairs and still have one drop-off day to go.

Whether your boots were made for walking or you’ve got diamonds on the soles of your shoes, you can bring them to Shir Tikvah between noon and 1:00 on Sunday, May 23. If you’ve got shoes to donate but can’t make it Sunday, email info@shirtikvah.org and we’ll do our best to take them off your feet.