A second life for secondhand shoes: Hopkins donates to Haiti and beyond

Student donation drive at O'Connor Rec Center expands JHU's work with local runners group

A rolling bin contains a giant black trash bag filled with athletic shoes

Image caption: Runners tend to discard their shoes after a few months of wear—but now, old pairs get new life

Image credit: Will Kirk / Homewood Photography

When Johns Hopkins School of Nursing volunteers pack for trips down to Haiti each year, it's become habit to fill any spare luggage space with secondhand athletic shoes.

The student and faculty volunteers have found it's good to have some offerings on hand while they're delivering medical services on the island. Often, they'll spot patients in dire need of a footwear upgrade.

Shoe donations are just one small angle of the health-focused service trips, but it's been a seamless fit—born from a partnership back home with the Baltimore Pacemakers, a local running group.

A man stands next to a rolling bin filled with shoes

Image caption: Local running group founder and father of a Hopkins alum Bob Hilson helped organize the donation effort

Image credit: Will Kirk / Homewood Photography

"Since runners tend to discard shoes after four to six months of wear, I started bringing some in our extra luggage," says JHU School of Nursing professor Beth Sloand, who orchestrates the Haiti trips and is also a longtime member of the running club.

But the effort has since expanded beyond spare suitcases. Now Hopkins undergraduates are getting in on it, with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee taking the lead.

In addition to donations to Haiti, organizers are now casting a wider geographic net, working with the nonprofit Community Recycling to send shoes to countries including Chile, Morocco, Bolivia, Kenya, and Sierra Leone.

Right before the holiday break, a student-organized drive pulled in dozens of shoes within six days. For the next collection, early next semester, two donation bins remain in place at the Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center at the front desk and in the main lobby.

Organizers are looking for lightly used, rubber-soled athletic shoes such as cleats, basketball shoes, and casual sneakers like Converse All-Stars. There's only one exception: no spikes.

This new student effort builds upon the already established relationship between Hopkins and the Baltimore Pacemakers.

The local running group, some 50 members strong, includes a number of Hopkins faculty and staffers, according to Pacemakers founder Bob Hilson, who is also a father of a Hopkins alum. The group is how he first befriended Sloand over a decade ago before they worked out the Haiti collaboration together.

More recently, Hilson connected with Joshua Reiter, the faculty adviser to the Hopkins men's lacrosse team, for the student-centered effort. At the Rec Center, JHU's games operation coordinator, Kelsie Gory steered and promoted that drive.

The volunteers anticipate continuing and expanding the effort throughout 2018.