‘Soles’ survivor: Founder battles on as charity seeks new home
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org June 18, 2012 9:00PM
Mona Purdy sits on top of ten pallets of unsorted shoes in her warehouse for Share Your Soles in Alsip, IL on Tuesday June 12, 2012. The clock is ticking on Mona's warehouse. She has about a week before she has to be out. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Want to help?
Mona Purdy needs help packing up her warehouse. She also needs children’s black dress shoes, Crocs and pledges for her Chicago marathon team. For more information on how to help, email email@example.com or call (708) 448-4469.
Updated: July 20, 2012 6:04AM
Think you could walk a mile in Mona Purdy’s shoes?
It wouldn’t really entail walking. More like sprinting, juking, leaping and sliding — all while negotiating deals on the cell, organizing legions of volunteers and hugging just about everybody in your path.
Take Monday, or any other day over the past few weeks since the founder of Share Your Soles found out that the charity — which sends shoes to the needy worldwide — must vacate its Alsip warehouse by Friday.
Still struggling to reclaim her personal life after a devastating apartment fire in late January, Purdy was working Monday on the move, still trying to line up a new site while arranging for the inventory of donated shoes to be stored in trailers at various trucking or storage firms so she doesn’t have to move twice.
“There are a couple of potentials in the fire, but nothing finalized,” Purdy said of a new location. “We don’t have any signed contract.”
The landlord of the donated warehouse space where Share Your Soles has operated at since January 2011 has found a tenant, which prompted the move. Yet the Southland’s “queen of sole” wears a smile and a determination to maintain business as usual.
Love and help
Purdy founded the 13-year-old nonprofit that collects shoes and distributes them to Third World countries as well as impoverished areas of the United States — including Chicago’s Englewood community — and has big projects in the works even as she’s moving.
The White Sox want to help. The Discovery Channel wants to talk about a four-month project. And her shipment to Uganda has just arrived, paving the way for her July visit.
“I have a lot going on,” she said.
These bumps in the road are merely opportunities for people to show their love, she said.
During an interview with a reporter, the love keeps coming. A pastor calls to say he has a crew of volunteers from Englewood that he’s bringing over to help pack. Annie West wants to chat with her about a downtown fundraiser she’s planning in August. A member of the Beverly Ridge Lions Club wants her to speak at a luncheon this week, one day before she is to have thousands of pairs of shoes, rows of desks and chairs, stacks of books and the special-needs mobility aids packed up and cleared out.
Meanwhile, there’s a couple at the door with bags of goods. They drove in from Wrigleyville.
“The challenge of this change is a good thing,” Purdy said. “It’s bringing the community together. I’ve had so many people offer to help.”
Purdy had to pay only minimal fees and utilities while occupying the 500,000-square-foot warehouse at 5623 W. 115th St., which came complete with needed loading docks. Before that, she was at another Alsip location for years. But now she and hundreds of volunteers are packing up.
“I’m not worried,” she said. “This will all work out.”
She’s had offers for new places. A convent in the northern suburbs offered to provide her space. Accord Carton, a neighboring packaging company, offered to store all the boxes until she finds another warehouse. And Nexus Distribution has offered to store furniture.
“It’s great that people have been reaching out,” she said. “Everybody can help somebody somewhere; everybody can help make this a better planet.”
No time for pity
For Share Your Soles, Purdy needs a place with at least 15,000 square feet, a loading dock and small office area. She’ll deal with limited parking if she must.
“But I can’t compromise on safety,” she said. “I have a lot of kids who volunteer.”
The way things are looking, most of those interested in providing space are in Chicago, some on the North Side. The Richards High School graduate may have to leave her south suburban roots.
Meanwhile, there’s other work to be done. The White Sox are planning to come out and do a day of service in September. She’s putting together a documentary film on her two recent trips to Haiti. And she’s bringing long-distance runners from Uganda and Rwanda here this fall to run with her in the Chicago marathon.
“I can’t be all ‘woe is me’ because I have a lot of good things going on,” she said. “And people have been so kind to me. The community’s been really good.”
When she distributes materials to starving people in Haiti, to victims of roadside bombings in the Middle East and to jigger-infected children in Kenya, she is reminded that living here in the United States, she has resources, she has options.
“Poor people around the world don’t have such opportunities,” she said.
So, yes, she does need a new warehouse. And she does need a new place to live.
“But right now, I’m also asking for Crocs for children in Kenya, for black dress shoes for boys and girls and for pledges for our marathon runners,” she said.
Money raised from the marathon will go toward paying the native people who help her distribute items in foreign locations. Since a trip to Guatemala in 1999, Purdy has collected and donated 1.5 million pairs of shoes for needy people around the world.