LEXINGTON, Ky. – One year ago, Kentucky track and field and cross country runners Luis Orta and Josh Nadzam had an idea to start a shoe drive around the UK campus and Lexington area. By the end of the drive, the duo had collected 2,100 pairs of used shoes to donate to Soles4Souls, a non-profit organization in Nashville, Tenn. Year two was even better.
Orta, Nadzam and other members of the track and field and cross country teams worked together to bring 2,911 pairs of shoes to Soles4Souls in 2012, a new record in a drive they hope to continue for years to come.
“It speaks volumes to the generosity we have here (at Kentucky) and how much everyone wants to pitch in and be a part of something,” said Nadzam, a three-time recipient of the Community Service Award at UK’s annual CATSPY Awards. “As soon as people got wind of what we were doing they just went above and beyond to try and help out. They hosted their own little shoe drives, got their churches involved, different schools and different track teams. The generosity has been amazing.”
“That’s part of Lexington, that’s why I love this town and that’s why I’m so proud to represent the University of Kentucky,” Orta said. “People here are down to help out; they’re down to do whatever it takes to make the world a little bit better.”
The idea for the shoe drive spawned one year ago after Orta had thrown away a pair of his used shoes and felt guilty over it. As a premier distance runner in the Southeastern Conference, Orta needs shoes that are in very good shape. While his shoes were worn out for his performance standards, they were still usable for someone else in need.
“I told Josh about it and said we should do something about it, start a shoe drive or something like that,” Orta said. “He loved the idea and was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
The drive did so well in the first year that Soles4Souls asked Nadzam and Orta to not only do it again, but make it SEC-wide. Other schools around the SEC then hopped on board and this year it was made into a friendly competition among the schools around the conference. It is still not yet determined as to which school raised the most shoes.
In the drive’s second year of existence at UK, which ran from Feb. 1 through April 27, Orta, Nadzam and others brought in more than 800 more shoes than 2011. The duo hung flyers up around campus, texted friends, posted messages on Facebook and Twitter and also talked with fellow UK student-athletes from other sports.
Once the drive finished, the shoes were taken to one of Soles4Souls’ headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. There, the shoes will be distributed to those in need. Since 2005, Soles4Souls, according to its website, has delivered over 17 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes to people in over 127 countries.
“We’ve taken everything from spikes (track cleats), to heels, to sandals, to work boots, cowboy boots and light-up shoes,” Nadzam said. “We take it all.”
With Nadzam now a UK graduate, and Orta entering his senior campaign in August, people have begun to ask what will happen to the drive in 2013. Nadzam, who is still at UK working toward his Master’s in social work, said he would love to still help out, and Orta said there is already a plan in place to keep the drive going in the future.
“What we’re trying to do is have a freshman or sophomore be a part of it so that it isn’t just Josh and I, and when we leave there’s still somebody here in charge of it,” said Orta, the 2012 SEC Men’s Indoor Runner of the Year. “If they can keep getting it higher and higher, 3,000 pairs of shoes, maybe 5,000 pairs of shoes each year – that helps a lot.”