Some people attend out-of-town business meetings and return with a T-shirt or other trinket. After attending such a gathering in Atlanta in June, Robelynn Abadie brought back flip-flops.
Twelve thousand pairs of flip-flops.
Abadie, however, isn’t Baton Rouge’s version of Imelda Marcos. The flip-flops were donated by Soles4Souls, a charity that provides shoes for those who need them.
On Friday, representatives of more than two dozen local organizations showed up at the Louisiana Capital Area Chapter American Red Cross warehouse to get footwear for distribution to those they serve.
“I’m really elated, because the families that we serve, shoes are really hard to come by sometimes, just having shoes for everybody in your family that fit,” said Deborah Jones, director of the YWCA’s Center for Family Empowerment.
Soles4Souls began in response to the 2004 tsunami in south Asia and Hurricane Katrina the next year. Shoe company executive Wayne Elsey called people he knew in the industry to donate shoes for those in need, then decided to create an ongoing organization for this purpose.
According to the Soles4Souls website, more than 11.5 million pairs of shoes have been distributed in more than 127 countries. Fifty-five percent are distributed in the U.S.
Abadie, CEO of Abadie Financial Services, is president of the Million Dollar Round Table, an international organization of the top 4 percent of insurance and financial professionals. At its annual meeting, the 7,000 attendees raised $176,000 for charity and donated $75,000 to Soles4Souls, which responded by offering 100,000 flip-flops for MDRT executives to bring back to local charities.
Abadie initially signed up for 10,000 of the flip-flops, and arranged for 6,000 more to be sent to her son in Minnesota. After contacting local service organizations, the response was so great that she asked for and received 2,000 more.
“One and a half billion people is what they estimate go without shoes each day,” Abadie said. “Something as simple as what we’re distributing here which is a simple flip-flop, it has really been amazing to find the need for it locally. That is really what was astounding to me.”
The 17 organizations accepting the donations include churches, homeless ministries and other outreaches that target the disadvantaged or those with an acute need.
“There are real challenges here,” Jones said. “There are many single-parent homes headed by females who don’t have the job skills or the education to move forward because they’re taking care of their families and they’re doing the best they can, and they’re earning wages that are less than livable. So, even though you may be working you still qualify for food stamps. So, a pair of shoes means I can spend that money on food.”
Woman’s Hospital requested flip-flops for victims of sexual assault, as well as to have some on hand for those who have evacuated from a hurricane or other disaster, said Lynn Weill, chief development officer at Woman’s Hospital. In addition to providing treatment, the hospital provides a new set of clothes for rape victims because the clothes they were wearing are kept as evidence.
The logistics of handling 12,000 pairs of flip-flops have been a challenge. Abadie received 3,600 pairs early to accommodate summer programs by Big Buddy and a partnership between the ExxonMobil YMCA and The Links. When nearly 30 boxes of flip-flops arrived at Abadie’s office, she stacked them in her conference room and in hallways.
“I still had nearly 8,000 shoes coming to me, and there was no way I could accommodate it, and … I was beginning to panic, because I thought there’s no way we could handle that here and still sort and pack them,” Abadie said. “So, I reached out a little bit and Cindy Mabry at the American Red Cross offered their facility.”
It took two days for volunteers to unpack the boxes and group the flip-flops according to the amount each charity needed. The flip-flops come in different sizes, and the charities estimated what they would need to serve their clients.
That turned Friday’s distribution into a minifestival, as organizations picked up a unique donation.
“I thought it was so wonderful and so unique that they were making this possible for the community,” Weill said. “It’s just a great philanthropic effort on the part of Soles4Souls.”