ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – Lynn McCray and Bobby Johnson regularly touch hundreds of souls throughout Metro Atlanta.
And not just the spiritual kind, but the ones at the bottom of feet.
“You can only go so long without shoes. Shoes prevent you from disease, of course prevent you from injuries and it just feels good to have shoes,” Johnson said.
He started Eco Sneakers seven years ago.
Each month, they collect about 2,000 donated sneakers from 12 locations, including ‘Phidippides’ and ‘I Play Tennis’ in Ansley Mall.
The shoes are sorted, cleaned and distributed to the homeless and others in need.
“What's funny is people thank us for being here,” said McCray, who is the creative lead and community liaison. “The fact that they're giving their sneakers number one, but then they give them willingly and freely and everybody gives.”
From gently worn sneakers, to new ones – even worn out sneakers – nothing goes to waste.
Those beyond repair are recycled.
“They grind them up that goes into playground equipment, that goes into subflooring into basketball courts, turf,” McCray said.
While other shoes are sent to an exporter to be re-purposed.
“They send them overseas for them to be repaired and stitched together cleaned up as much as possible. They actually create microenterprises in 14 other countries,” she said.
To spread the word, McCray sets up booths at runners’ expos and local races, like The Mayor's 5k on the 5th Runway.
Johnson said he never imagined his goodwill gesture would impact the world in so many ways.
He came up with the idea while training for the Peachtree Road Race.
“I saw this homeless guy and he didn't have shoes and it just became natural for me to give him a pair of shoes,” he said.
Eco Sneakers has evolved to include help from community volunteers, including Marine recruits and ROTC students.
Johnson said the environmental perks were an added bonus.
It takes about 2,200 gallons of water to make one pair of sneakers and up to 80 years for a discarded pair of sneakers to decompose in a landfill.
“We've done what we've could to damage the earth and now I'm willing to give back and to try to save some of that for my kids,” McCray said.
Johnson and McCray said they're working to expand eco sneakers and set up donation bins across the country.
“Not asking for the shirt off your back just the shoes off your feet,” he said.
Eco Sneakers’ goal is to collect 600 pairs of sneakers at this year’s Mayor’s 5K.
Participants can drop off sneakers at bins provided at the race.