Local Kiwanis clubs want your shoes.

Old or new, they can use any footwear, from pumps with broken heels to tired old running shoes. They’ll even take roller skates.

Your shoes will travel to developing nations, where small entrepreneurs will sell them. The money they pay to Kiwanis Clubs will go back to needy countries to help inoculate women against maternal and neonatal tetanus, a disease that kills 49,000 infants a year.

“This (shoes) is basically something people are not going to use,” said lawyer Jeff Wittenbrink, who is district lieutenant governor for Kiwanis. “We’re just picking it up for them. These micro-entrepreneurs have jobs, and these babies get saved.”

This year, Baton Rouge-area Kiwanis clubs collected 8,950 pairs of shoes from churches, businesses, high school Key Clubs and friends and neighbors. Their first shipment is already bound for other countries.

As part of the Eliminate Project, Kiwanis International and UNICEF have combined efforts to pay for expectant mothers in 24 countries to have tetanus shots. The shots cost $1.10 each, said Frank O’Quinn, president of the downtown Kiwanis Club of Baton Rouge, and they prevent mothers from passing tetanus to their children.

Infants often contract tetanus from unsafe delivery practices, according to the World Health Organization, and the babies die excruciating deaths.

“They’re sensitive to light and sensitive to touch,” Wittenbrink said. “You can’t hold them. They die alone in the dark, a terrible death. When you can save a child with a pair of old shoes in your closet, tell me how do you not do that?”

The shoes collected from south Louisianans will be sent to a group called Funds2Orgs, which pays Kiwanis 40 cents per pound. That money goes to tetanus shots, and the shoes get sold to entrepreneurs who modify them for everyday use.

In some of these areas, impoverished people have learned to make shoes from discarded plastic water bottles, O’Quinn said, so adapting a pair of baseball cleats or high heels isn’t a big deal.

“The little micro-industries will refurbish them and make them into what they need,” he said. “When you’ve got no money, you can do whatever.”

Kiwanis Clubs will collect used shoes through May 20. Contact Wittenbrink by email at jwbrink@bellsouth.net for more information.