After years of training for marathons on the streets of Ann Arbor, LSA seniors Brad Stulberg and Nate Fink have more than a few pairs of shoes collecting dust in the back of their closets. But they’re not trashing their kicks or selling them on eBay.

Brian Merlos
LSA seniors Nate Fink and Brad Stulberg are trying to send used running shoes to poor countries in conjunction with local shoe stores and the Soles4Souls charity. (SAM WOLSON/Daily)

“I had run through a pair of shoes and I started thinking, ‘I have these shoes sitting in my closet, there’s got to be something better to do with them,’ ” Stulberg said. “Then I started thinking, ‘Why not donate these shoes?’ “

The two friends, self-proclaimed “running junkies,” are preparing to ship those shoes – and many more – to poor countries where people can’t afford them on their own.

The project, slated to launch June 1, will join Running Fit, a local chain of running stores, together with Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization that sends shoes to developing countries across the globe.

Customers who drop off used shoes at any of Running Fit’s seven locations will receive a discount on their next purchase and the used shoes will be donated to Soles4Souls.

Stulberg developed the initial idea and got Fink, then vice president of the Michigan Student Assembly, involved in the project. The duo pitched the concept to Running Fit’s owners.

Steve Angerman, a co-owner of the company, said he was eager to help with the project. He said runners often feel guilty about throwing away a pair of shoes that still look and work fine for everyday use but aren’t suited for running anymore.

“It really is an issue that arises, and we thought, ‘yeah, let’s try to do something about that,’ ” he said.

With Running Fit on board, Stulberg and Fink began their search for a charity.

Stulberg said, the two were looking at first for a charity that worked locally, but soon realized that the program could have a bigger impact if it helped impoverished people in other countries.

They eventually decided on Soles4Souls, which Fink said was a “perfect fit” for their program.

“All of the resources that they have are going to get shoes to people that need them,” he said.

Much of the promotion for the project will be done by Running Fit, which sends out weekly e-mails to customers, and Soles4Souls’s “press arm,” which plans to connect with local media outlets.

The launch of the program will coincide with Soles4Souls Barefoot Week, a nationwide shoe collection effort.

Stulberg said he thinks the University could play a major role in helping the charity.

“Imagine if the school had a one-day shoe drive,” he said.

Stulberg said the health benefits of wearing shoes are vast, but often overlooked.

According to the World Health Organization, hookworm, a parasite that primarily enters the body through the feet, is a leading cause of anemia and protein malnutrition. It affects about 740 million people worldwide.

“In the majority of hookworm cases, the initial transmission occurs from the soil to the feet because people aren’t wearing shoes,” Stulberg said.

“Simply putting shoes on people can help to solve a public health crisis.”

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