A trip to the post office changed Mona Purdy’s life.
Mailing cycling equipment to Guatemala for a friend, the former Palos Park resident was told how expensive the shipping would be and that it would be cheaper to take the gear to the Central American country herself.
After convincing herself that a Guatemala trip was the right thing to do, Purdy made the trek. Focused on fitness, Purdy opted to run a half-marathon while in Guatemala. While many things stuck with her about the event, such as the race being in the middle of the day in 100-degree heat and her being the only female in the seven-person field, a couple of things in particular stood out.
“Some of the men were running barefoot. Kids were on the side of the road cheering and running besides us with no shoes on, but something on the bottom of their feet,” Purdy said. “I later learned it was tar on the soles of their feet.”
As fate would have it, on Purdy’s return flight, she was seated next to a doctor who had been in the country on a medical mission trip.
“He told me if kids had shoes, he wouldn’t have to go to the country so often to perform medical amputations,” Purdy said.
The divorced mother of three told her kids about her experiences and her then-5-year-old daughter went and got a pair of gym shoes. She told Purdy to take the shoes with her the next time she went to Guatemala.
The combination of factors led Purdy to start the Share Your Soles organization. The nonprofit group started in Purdy’s garage, but as word spread about her efforts, donations swelled and she quickly outgrew her storage space.
In 17 years, Share Your Soles has grown into a global organization, providing more than 2 million pairs of shoes to individuals throughout the world — from Indian reservations and the Appalachian Mountains in the United States to African countries.
Impoverished individuals in India, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Cameroon, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Ghana have been touched by the organization.
The organization, located in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood, is in the process of moving to a new home — a location Purdy is not ready to divulge until all details are worked out. Its current site, which was donated to the organization for the past four years, has been leased out by a new landlord.
Scouts and other groups have come to the organization’s warehouse to help sort the thousands of gym shoes, hiking boots and dress shoes the organization receives each week.
Purdy, now a Pullman resident, said that when she started the organization, her father wouldn’t talk to her for months, fearful that the divorced mom was biting off more than she could chew.
“Now he’s a member of our board,” Purdy said with a smile.
With her first grandchild on the way, Purdy thought about passing the torch and scaling back on her humanitarian effort. But an epiphany regarding her father got her to refocus her efforts on the charity.
“My dad is 91 years old and he is the happiest man because he is always doing things for others,” Purdy said. “He is never sad and says we all need to be involved in making the world better. I want to be like that.”
The Share Your Soles founder said it would be easy to play the hero when going to foreign countries with donations.
“I could go and say, ‘I’m here to help you. You’re poor. I’m from America,’” Purdy said.
Instead recipients have to earn the shoes by doing a productive project.
She remembers being at a refugee camp in Honduras and telling a group of women they needed to clear an acre of land to obtain the shoes. Early the next morning, there was a knock on her door and the women telling her the job was done.
Purdy said the awarding of shoes is a ceremony in many countries with applause given for individuals when they get their shoes. She said individuals walk with pride when they get a pair of shoes and check to see who is looking at them.
Purdy has been chronicling her trips for the past eight years and has started writing a book about her experiences.
“Why do I keep doing it?” Purdy asked rhetorically. “Because each time I go on a trip, I see need.”
She said a yard sale will be conducted May 27-28 at 11835 S. Bell, located in Chicago’s Beverly-Morgan Park neighborhood, with all proceeds going to Save Your Soles.
Purdy noted that in addition to the continual donation of shoes, the organization is in need of money to cover the rent on its new facility.
For information about donating shoes or money to Save Your Soles, email firstname.lastname@example.org
— Share your Soles shoe project ties woman to world —