The Graduate School’s Office for Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion (ORDI) faced a dilemma. Shernita Lee, assistant dean and ORDI director, and Shania Clinedinst, ORDI support programs specialist, knew they wanted to launch a February service project associated with Martin Luther King Jr. Day that could include the entire Virginia Tech community in Blacksburg and Roanoke and support a larger cause, but the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions limited their options.

Then Lee remembered an organization she had heard about: Soles4Souls.

The nonprofit organization collects new and gently used clothing and shoes to accomplish two goals: providing such items to those in need in the United States and other countries, and funneling gently used shoes to partners in developing countries, where people can sell them and support their families.

Clinedinst researched the organization and then reached out to Stephanie Hathaway, the Soles4Souls’s director of operations for Virginia and Washington, D.C., and within weeks, the Virginia Tech shoe drive became a reality.

“They had a tool kit and a wealth of information, so we decided to run with it” Clinedinst said. “They really set me up for success.”

ORDI placed contactless bins to collect shoes in the lobby of the Graduate Life Center, at McCommas Hall, and at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. Blacksburg Baptist Church also offered to collect shoes for the project with drive-by drop-off hours.

Originally planned as a week-long venture, the drive became so popular, it has been extended through Feb. 26. Clinedinst and Lee said people have donated more than 500 pairs of shoes thus far.

“This service project was important to reaffirm our motto of Ut prosim and to demonstrate that distance cannot halt our commitment to serving others,” said Lee. “The university community and our neighbors have been amazing, helping us achieve our target of collecting at least 500 pairs of shoes.”

“We are just so grateful,” Hathaway said during a recent Zoom interview.

She noted that shoe drives tend to be successful for a simple reason: “Almost everyone has shoes in their closets that they don’t wear. Drives are a way for multiple people to clean out their closets and give those shoes a new life.”

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Hathaway said the shoes are processed and packaged before they are shared with organizations assisting individuals who need such help, or with international partners who will give them to families in need so they can sell them at local marketplaces.

“It’s really much more than someone donating a pair of shoes they don’t wear,” Hathaway said. “It is really changing the economic situation of families.”

During the pandemic, the organization has worked with stores and shoe manufacturers to give pairs of shoes to front-line workers who are wearing through their footwear faster than they normally would.

Clinedinst said the shoe drive harked to one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s messages: We cannot walk alone. “The response has been overwhelming,” she said.

Lee agreed. “The Virginia Tech community has always been willing to give back to the New River Valley and beyond, and this service project allowed campus units to be involved along with the public.”

The drive will continue through Feb. 26. Drop-off bins are located on the Blacksburg campus at Graduate Life Center Lobby, McComas Hall Lobby, the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, and in the community at Blacksburg Baptist Church. Bags and sanitizing equipment are available at each site.