EcoSneakers founder, Beacon Hill Middle School student appear on Kelly Clarkson ShowBeacon Hill Middle School student Kenny Jackson appeared on the Kelly Clarkson Show on Jan. 31 along with the founder of EcoSneakers to highlight the nonprofit's work. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Jackson.
Decatur, GA – A local Atlanta nonprofit is helping put a pep in peoples’ step one pair of shoes at a time. The EcoSneakers founder and a Beacon Hill Middle School student recently appeared on the Kelly Clarkson show to share the work the organization is doing.
EcoSneakers works to provide those in need with shoes here in Atlanta, but also around the world.
“Some are repurposed to people in need. Those are the ones that are clean or brand new. Some are sent to other countries for micro-enterprises or small entrepreneurs,” said Bobby Johnson, founder of EcoSneakers. “Those are the ones that need a lot of sanitizing, a lot of cleaning or mending, but they’re wearable.”
In the early 2000s, when Johnson moved to Atlanta from Kentucky, he was training for the Peachtree Road Race.
“One of the habits I had was after the race because I went barefoot quite a bit as a child, I would walk without my shoes on,” Johnson said. “One day I saw a homeless guy who didn’t have shoes, and it just was natural for me to give him my shoes.”
It hit Johnson at that moment that collecting and donating shoes was what he was going to do to give back to people and the earth.
“I started collecting shoes from neighbors and friends. The friends and neighbors started taking the idea to schools, and the schools started giving them to me, then churches,” Johnson said.
EcoSneakers has repurposed about 450,000 pairs of sneakers. EcoSneakers became an LLC in 2013, and also has a nonprofit arm of the organization.
“I did not think of it as a business. It’s a passion. I grew up in a domestic violence situation,” Johnson said. “So most of my childhood, I did not have shoes. I know exactly what it’s like to walk around without shoes or shoes with holes in them and to be made fun of because you didn’t have [shoes].”
“You can’t survive without a pair of shoes, especially in the city,” Johnson added. “It just does something to your self-esteem.”
He added that a nice pair of shoes puts a pep in your step.
“It just makes you step higher, makes you feel better and stronger and everything,” Johnson said. “The social part of it is amazing because we get people involved with wanting to help. So now you have huge community engagement where people want to bring shoes, and they want these shoes to go to someone and make a difference.”
Johnson is also passionate about sustainability. EcoSneakers takes shoes that aren’t wearable and grinds them up to make new products like the filling for bean bags and stadium pillows.
“We have stuffed animals and also a book that teaches about sustainability to kids starting at age three,” Johnson said. “The animals, the belly is filled with a bag full of the eco grind and also the little paws. Some of the animals are made from plastic bottles. It takes nine plastic bottles to make one of our animals, and two pairs of shoes we grind up to make the insides.”
Johnson and Beacon Hill Middle School student Kenny Jackson were on the Kelly Clarkson Show on Jan. 31 to highlight the work EcoSneakers is doing.
“It was shocking, but it was a really eye-opening experience for me,” Johnson said.
The show had reached out to Johnson about being a guest on the show. Johnson said it was “unreal” to meet Clarkson.
Jackson was also recognized for partnering with EcoSneakers. For his 13th birthday, he encouraged family and friends to donate money to EcoSneakers. He raised about $1,200 in one month.
“Last year for my birthday, I donated to a charity, which was EcoSneakers. Recently, they got a call from the Kelly Clarkson show to come on the show and talk about what they do,” Jackson said. “I chose EcoSneakers because I’m really into sneakers.”
“I know the feeling that I get when I get a new pair of sneakers and how it makes me feel, and it made me heartbroken that other kids don’t have that same experience,” he added. “I wanted every kid to have that same experience and that same sense of happiness.”
On the show, Clarkson described the excitement she felt as a kid when she got a new pair of Nike shoes that were her size.
“I’ve been that kid that grew up, you know you get that bag from church, and it’d be a bunch of hand-me-downs that they’d give to families who couldn’t afford stuff,” Clarkson said. “The confidence it gives you, and it just lifts your spirit when you don’t have stuff like that normally. What [Bobby does] for those people receiving that is so incredibly cool, and also that you’re not wasting it and those people are recycling those shoes.”
Clarkson also announced that Moral Code Footwear was donating $15,000 in new shoes to EcoSneakers.
Anyone interested in donating shoes or hosting a sneaker drive, can contact EcoSneakers at [email protected] for more information.
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