On a recent Friday afternoon, a small package arrived at the Cleary household in Carmel Valley, sent from Lahaina, Hawaii.
Philip and Kimberly Cleary had an idea of what was inside. Kimberly eagerly opened the box while sitting at the kitchen table, and found three pairs of used shoes.
While it may seem to be an unusual type of item to receive in the mail, it made the Clearys smile. The footwear was meant for their nonprofit organization, Donate Your Old Shoes.
And Kimberly was grateful that someone was willing to spend $20 to ship their used shoes for a good cause, instead of dumping them in the trash.
“It’s amazing how many nice people there are in the world,” Kimberly said.
People from various parts of the globe have donated to the nonprofit, from as far away as Japan and Korea, and all around the United States.
And in turn, the shoes are sent to other countries — so far, adults and children in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Guinea, Liberia and Togo have benefited from others’ generosity.
The idea for collecting used shoes began during the Cleary family’s adventure trip to Nicaragua in 2006.
Philip and Kimberly — with their young children Mimi, Conway, Shea and Joe — chose to visit an orphanage in Managua.
“We wanted to show our kids that it’s not always about iPads and skateboards,” Kimberly said. “We wanted to show them what life was like (elsewhere).”
At the orphanage, the Clearys noted that the children had beds, some books and a few clothes, but they either didn’t have shoes or had mismatched pairs.
“It was sort of like an epiphany, like a light bulb went on,” Philip said.
Upon their return to the United States, the Clearys sought to establish a 501(c)(3) recognized charity to “put shoes on the shoeless worldwide.” Donate Your Old Shoes officially became accepted on Dec. 4, 2006.
In the beginning, the Clearys cleaned out their closets and friends contributed their old footwear, and they took some boxes to Nicaragua.
After a couple of trips, the couple decided to take the charity to the next level. Because two 50-pound pieces of checked baggage were permitted on flights to Nicaragua — which Philip was occasionally visiting due to his interest in buying real estate there — he went to Goodwill, bought suitcases and filled them with used footwear, much of which had been obtained through shoe drives. Philip then took them directly to the Central American country and distributed them.
Meanwhile, the organization’s popularity was catching on — a Web site had been established, donateyouroldshoes.org, and KPBS helped the nonprofit create a video.
“People found us on the Web site; we didn’t do any advertising,” Philip said.
The support came pouring in, and continues today, as the Clearys receive boxes daily. People spend an average of $25 to send their shoes to the nonprofit, sometimes paying as much as $50 — all because of their desire to support the cause. Many groups — such as the Boy Scouts, Rotary and even university organizations — hold shoe drives.