When Lindsay Sobel helped her dad clean out the garage, she was startled by all the perfectly good shoes no one wore. Instantly, an idea struck that has helped thousands of folks in need take a step forward. She’s proof that it only takes one person to make a difference.
As her bat mitzvah approached, Lindsay Sobel struggled to come up with an idea for her community service project. “I want to do something with a lasting impact— something I can do for years and even involve others,” the Chatsworth, California, then- 13-year-old told her dad one Saturday morning in 2016 as they cleaned out the garage. As they sorted items into “keep” and “toss” piles, they came upon racks of old shoes—and that’s when inspiration struck.
Lindsay is a sports fan. She and her dad often travel to downtown Los Angeles for Lakers games. Lindsay’s heart always aches as they pass homeless people on sidewalks. Some don’t even have shoes on their feet, she recalled now.
Looking at her family’s discarded shoes, Lindsay realized most were in perfectly good condition: some outgrown before they became worn; others not as comfortable as the wearer had hoped or bought to go with one special outfit.
“I counted 30 pairs we could donate,” she told her mom and dad, and they agreed she’d found her mitzvah project.
Thinking others likely had shoes they could donate, Lindsay spread the word at school, and every day for a week, she and her mom filled their car trunk with donations, stocking their cleaned-out garage with 1,000 pairs of shoes!
Lindsay divvied them up among several local charities that feed the homeless. Workers and recipients were overwhelmed with gratitude.
Soon after, Lindsay celebrated her bat mitzvah, and as she had hoped, her project continued on. Lindsay created a nonprofit, ShoesForSouls.com, and as donations poured in, she contacted area shelters. “I have sandals, work shoes, sneakers and even dress shoes so people can look and feel their best when they have job interviews,” she explained.
“I never had anything this pretty!” one teen girl thrilled, slipping on colorful new Crocs. “My feet bless you,” added another woman who had arrived in torn flip-flops. One teen was shocked when Lindsay was able to provide him with a pair of size 15 basketball shoes.
How ShoesForSouls Continues to Make a Difference
So far Lindsay, now 18, has collected and given away over 45,000 pairs of shoes locally with ShoesForSouls and around the world in a partnership with an international charity. And these days, her inventory includes some new shoes donated by Foot Locker and Champs Sports.
“I’ve seen so many people burst into tears when Lindsay offers them their choice of shoes,” says Monique Alvarado, organizational development project manager for the Los Angeles Mission. “For some, these are the first nice pair of shoes they’ve ever had. But there’s more to it. Lindsay lets people know they are thought about and not forgotten.”
Lindsay appreciates the praise but notes ShoesForSouls truly is a group effort.
“I’m proud of my community for stepping up and giving what they can,” says Lindsay. “Anyone with a closet or garage has shoes they don’t wear. I love helping give them a second life with someone less fortunate.”
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.