If you are like most sneakerheads, at one point in your life you have stopped and stared at your collection and asked yourself “Why do I have so many pairs of shoes?!” For Rikki Mendias, that realization inspired him to DO something with all of his excess pairs. We caught up with him in Los Angeles to learn more about how his charity, Hav A Sole is helping the homeless and less fortunate walk in comfort and dignity.
Tell us a little bit about Hav A Sole
In order to fully understand how Hav A Sole came to be, we’d have to go back to when I was nine years old. At that time, both my parents were using drugs and after a bitter break up, my Mom landed in the county jail. Devastated, I had to go live with my Grandma.
When my mom was released a year later, we went to live at a women and children’s shelter in Santa Monica. As my Mom was getting sober and struggling to make ends meet, she couldn’t afford to buy me a pair of shoes. I was embarrassed to wear the ones I had because they were falling apart. One day, a woman named Becky came by the shelter and discovered my shoes had huge holes on the bottoms and offered to buy me two new pairs. I never forgot her kindness nor the confidence I felt wearing those brand new kicks to school.
Due to that early deprivation, over the years I became obsessed with having every style, color and brand of sneaker I could get my hands on and by the time I was in my twenties, I had over 150 pairs.
Things eventually got better for everyone, and I discovered a passion for photography. However, in my early thirties I started to feel empty inside, like my life had no meaning or purpose and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
One night, I couldn’t sleep. I sat straight up in my bed and looked over at the stack of shoes, piled against the wall. Suddenly, I had a clear, sudden realization. I asked myself “Why do I have so many shoes and I don’t even wear half of them?” There are people out there who don’t have any at all. The next day, I decided to hit the streets of Los Angeles and give some of my shoes away. I found a homeless man who needed a pair and after getting to know him I asked him if I could take a photo of the new pair next to the old. I shared these images and stories on social media. People all over were inspired and asked if they could help. Thus, Hav A Sole was born, and in just two years alone we’ve given out more than seven thousand pairs.
How do you choose who will receive your help?
In the beginning it was direct outreach, with my friend Dash Penland, using my Ford Explorer to deliver shoes. But as more shoes came in, we needed more help. I was blown away by the flood of volunteers, young and old, who joined us to give out sneakers to at-risk youth, shelter goers and directly to the people of LA’s skid row. What was really satisfying was when my mom and I were able to go back to the same shelter where we lived to provide a pair of shoes for everyone living there.
How did you approach your corporate sponsors?
Social Media has been such a powerful tool and as our following grew larger, a manager at a local Nike store discovered us on Instagram. After joining us at one of our events, she suggested we become a 501c3, which we did and as a result, her store began to donate shoes. Soon, other Nike stores heard about us, until we had a steady stream coming in from all over that allowed us to provide less-advantaged individuals with high quality shoes.
You mentioned to me earlier that you have actually taken Hav A Sole on the road. Where have you gone and what were some of the organizations that helped you out along the way?
Yes, we have made three separate road trips and have clocked over 10,000 miles. We worked with organizations such as Covenant House, The Clare Foundation, the Midnight Mission, the Union Rescue Mission and various Boys and Girls Clubs. We visited Oakland, San Francisco, Medford, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Corporate sponsors like Nike and Saucony were integral in the success of these multi-state road trips.
How can our readers get involved with your organization or contribute in their own communities?
With the world being where it is today, I believe it’s going to take radical kindness to transform it. Anyone can impact their community by making a decision and following up with a positive action.
Furthermore, I’d like to invite people to visit our website, Hav A Sole where you can get the address to ship your new or gently worn sneaker donations. You will also find a PayPal link for the donations that help keep our organization going with its daily operations such as storage, gas and other expenses. Every little bit helps!
Tell us about next week’s event and what remaining needs you have.
We are so excited to be delivering shoes to the children at PAL in Santa Monica on July 12th. This is an environment that uses cultural, recreational and outreach programs to help youth develop skills and increase their self-esteem, thus encouraging them to reach their full potential. When I was young, I spent many hours playing basketball at the same gym that we will be hosting the event. Hav A Sole will not only give these kids a pair shoes, but hopefully learn an important message about how important it is to give back.
An individual that has worked with Hav A Sole had this to say about the organization:
The above picture is my first hand experience of the pure joy it brings to someone when they receive a new pair of shoes at a Hav A Sole event. I believe that Rikki has created a platform that brings happiness and joy to the underprivileged in a very unique way. There’s nothing quite as joyful as a new pair of shoes, as many of us privileged enough to be able to buy them understand.
That feeling when you win a raffle for an exclusive shoe, that joy and thrill is the same when someone receives a pair of shoes at a Hav A Sole event its just multiplied times a 100.