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Soles help souls: Store owner offers discount for donated shoes
A Soles4Souls bin sits insides Saul’s, a business on the square in Gainesville. Through Feb. 21, owner Lorry Schrage is offering a discount to customers who donate shoes to the charity. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A pair of shoes is something many take for granted.

But to some people around the world, shoes are a commodity, not a birthright.

Saul’s, located at 100 Main St. SW in downtown Gainesville, is collecting gently worn shoes to donate to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization that distributes shoes to those in need worldwide.

Those who give shoes can benefit, too. Saul’s is offering a 20 percent discount on new shoes to those who donate to Soles4Souls.

Saul’s owner Lorry Schrage said he heard about the organization through a booth set up where he purchases shoes for his store.

"I talked to them about it and liked the idea," Schrage said. "It’s a great thing."

Schrage said though the shoe drive has gotten a good response, it’s not about advertising.

"It’s not a moneymaker for the store. It’s just a neat idea. I thought I’d try it," Schrage said.

The drive started Feb. 1 and runs through Feb. 21.

Schrage said response has been good so far, with some people bringing in bags of shoes to donate.

"Sometimes they’re happy to find a home for their shoes," Schrage said.

Schrage said there are many people who need donated shoes.

"I think there’s a need for most everything in this world, in this country," Schrage said. "You see people in the world walking about barefoot in terrible conditions, terrible weather."

Schrage said Soles4Souls is able to refurbish shoes and get the right pair to the right person.

"They can take them into their warehouse and sort them and repair them. The thing is they get such large quantities they can sort them by size and make useful packs of them," Schrage said. "Shoes are so size-sensitive."

Soles4Souls started as an effort to send shoes to the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004.

Founder Wayne Elsey, a former executive at a footwear company, decided to collect and donate shoes full time after realizing the overwhelming response he got from collecting shoes for people displaced by natural disasters.

In the U.S., Soles4Souls concentrates on donating shoes to victims of domestic violence, summer camps for disadvantaged children, inner-city hospitals and Indian reservations.

In Gainesville, Gateway Domestic Violence Center Executive Director Jessica Butler said there always is a demand for shoes.

"It’s just an ongoing need for us," Butler said.

The center’s thrift store accepts donations of shoes of all varieties, which helps serve clients with different needs.

"It allows us to keep an inventory of all kinds of sizes whether it’s shoes and clothes," Butler said.