If the Shoe Refits

Groups Recycle Sneakers to Raise Money for Charities

Written by Steph Heinatz

[dropcap]Cinderella proved that a new pair of shoes could change your life. But what if your old shoes — repurposed and given to someone new—could change a life, the planet and a charity simultaneously? [/dropcap]

GreenSneakers believes that’s possible. And so do an increasing number of philanthropists across Hampton Roads who are using GreenSneakers to help raise money for their causes. 

Based in North Dakota, GreenSneakers takes donated tennis shoes and gives them a second chance at life as affordable footwear for people in need around the world. They get their shoes from groups around the country that collect gently worn tennis shoes and trade them in to GreenSneakers at 50 cents per pound. 

GreenSneakers likes to say it’s taking steps to a greener tomorrow, both for the planet and a more prosperous existence for people in need. 



The GreenSneakers program hits the trifecta philanthropists strive for when working to make the world a better place—people, the planet and causes. For one, donating old sneakers helps the earth. GreenSneakers estimates that 70,000 donated sneakers saves 500 cubic meters of landfill space. 

Running shoes, Florence Williams says in Runner’s World magazine, “are made of plastic, the kind of plastic that the human race engineered to last for a thousand years.” Yet only one in 100 pairs of shoes are recycled annually, according to GreenSneakers. Then there’s the two-fold people aspect of helping a cause and charity that’s meaningful to you while also helping people in developing countries. The potential destinations for the donated shoes include central African nations, South American regions, Haiti and agencies handling disaster and humanitarian relief efforts. 



Erin Padgett can’t say exactly where the 1,135 pairs of shoes that once took over her garage ended up. She doesn’t even know where every pair came from. But she does know that with the donation of each shoe, she was able to reach her goals on a deeply personal mission. 

Padgett, a physician assistant at Orthopedic & Spine Center in Newport News, Va., collected the shoes—weighing 1,600 pounds—earlier this year to help with her fundraising efforts. An avid runner, Padgett trained with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., in April. In exchange for training and support, Team In Training participants raise funds for research, financial aid and support for patients and families fighting blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma.

“I started [with] Team In Training…when I wanted to run my first full marathon,” Padgett says. “I lost a very close family friend at the age of 19 after being diagnosed with a rare tumor. She put up an incredible fight, however in the end the cancer won.”

Those 1,600 pounds of shoes brought Padgett roughly $800 for her fundraising efforts and linked her to people she didn’t know, and still has never met. 

“It was very inspirational to think of Stacy,” Padgett says, remembering her friend.

“When I thought my legs could no longer go on, I thought about her struggles and how she fought with everything she had while wearing a smile. I can’t imagine how many mornings she woke up and didn’t want to face the pain the day had to bring. I continue to run in her memory and all the many others who have lost the battle to cancer.”

Inspired by her efforts, Tidewater Physical Therapy in Newport News, Va., put GreenSneakers collection boxes in each of their Peninsula clinics to help, adding hundreds of shoes to Padgett’s collection. 

“We were proud to help Erin achieve her goals,” says Paula Lumsden, communications coordinator for Tidewater Physical Therapy. “We look forward to working with Erin in the years to come as she continues her training and her philanthropic efforts.” 

Efforts Lumsden called “truly inspirational” and that caused Tidewater Physical Therapy to find another runner—Rose Wildermuth—to support while collecting shoes at its clinics in South Hampton Roads alongside Fleet Feet Sports, Running Etc., and the Virginia Beach Field House. 

Collection efforts run through September in support of Wildermuth, who will run the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco, Calif., on October 20.



Getting started with GreenSneakers is easy. Just fill out a simple form at: http://greensneakers.org/getstarted.php.

“We are here to help you create a simple, effective and meaningful fundraiser for your cause,” says Kristina Littlewolf of GreenSneakers. 

The key to success is word of mouth, Padgett says, because most people have at least one pair of sneakers they don’t wear anymore taking up space at home.  GreenSneakers provides two containers large enough to collect the 500-pound minimum and coordinates pick-up for any organization that signs up through a one-on-one call with a program coordinator.

“Literally a guy came with a trailer and took them away,” Padgett says. “I admit I was really excited when I got my garage back.” 



Virginia Beach

  • Fleet Feet Sports, 4001 Virginia Beach Blvd., Collins Square 
  • Running Etc., 1940 Laskin Road
  • Tidewater Physical Therapy, 2004 Sandbridge Road, Suite 102
  • Virginia Beach Field House, 2157 Landstown Road 


  • Tidewater Physical Therapy clinics at 4020 Raintree Road, Suite D; 135 W. Hanbury Road, Suite B; and 108 Knells Ridge Blvd., Suite 200 


  • Running Etc., 1707 Colley Avenue
  • Tidewater Physical Therapy, 6161 Kempsville Circle, Suite 250


These drop off locations  accept new and gently used sneakers. Hiking shoes—with nubby turf soles—are accepted. Keep shoes tied or bagged together. The following are not accepted:

  • Dress shoes 
  • Flip-flops 
  • High heels
  • Sandals 
  • Slippers
  • Sports cleats
  • Work boots