Soles for Tots continues to provide shoes to needy elementary, junior high students

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 2/17/21

FLEMING ISLAND – A local man needs all the help he can get collecting used and new shoes for students in the area.

Russ Kamradt is in his 13th consecutive year collecting shoes for his annual …

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Soles for Tots continues to provide shoes to needy elementary, junior high students

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – A local man needs all the help he can get collecting used and new shoes for students in the area.

Russ Kamradt is in his 13th consecutive year collecting shoes for his annual Soles for Tots shoe drive and this year he’s looking for as many new pairs of shoes as he can find. Soles for Tots has collected more than 40,000 shoes, but there are still children in local elementary and junior high schools that need shoes.

“What I do is contact the schools and I talk to whoever I can there,” Kamradt said. “Be it a nurse, a principal, a counselor or whoever. They tell me what they need and what sizes and we try to come back with as much as we can, but we never have everything we need.”

Kamradt said the shoe drive always gets plenty of toddler-sized shoes and more adult-sized shoes, but never enough for the junior-high aged students. He’s asking for new shoes from all ages, but emphasizes there’s a particular need from early teens.

He said an effective tool to get involved has been requesting your church or your place of business get involved. That makes it a multi-person effort instead of just one person, which often ends with even more shoes being donated for students in the area. Those that want to get involved can contact Kamradt at russkamradt@hotmail.com or the Salvation Army, who Soles for Tots is working with, at jennifer.wheeler@uss.salvationarmy.org.

The idea for Soles for Tots came to Kamradt over a decade ago while he was living in Bombita, Domincan Republic. He was there to help a community affected by a recent hurricane and it was there that he realized many of the people there often walked barefoot on the area’s harsh roads. He wanted to get shoes to them and so he wrote home and asked his church and others to gather up shoes for donation.

When Kamradt arrived home, there were more than 1,000 pairs of shoes waiting for him. Kamradt, a Marine, often worked with Toys for Tots and that’s where the idea of Soles for Tots came from.

“What had happened was I put an article in the Clay Today and in return, the response was great and we collected so many shoes,” Kamradt said. “I had more than enough shoes to take care of who I wanted to take care of and we donated the leftover shoes to other organizations. After the Domincan Republic, I went to local schools for Toys for Tots and a teacher recognized me from the paper.

“She told me that plenty of students in school need shoes too and so I went to Fleming Island Methodist Church to get a shoe drive started. We ended up collecting almost 5,000 pairs.”

Now 40,000 shoes later, Kamradt says there are still students in need. He donates as many pairs as needed each year and leftover pairs go to other organizations and the homeless in Jacksonville. Even shoes deemed too used here go to places like Haiti and the people there take these shoes apart and sew them back together to create new shoes out of the old material.

“Not a single shoe ever goes to waste with Soles for Tots,” Kamradt said. “We’re looking for as much help as we can get this year. It’s a great cause and everyone needs shoes.”

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