Sal's Shoes in Edenbridge sends outgrown children's shoes to communities worldwide

From Newington to Nicaragua, Maidstone to Malawi, Tenterden to Tanzania - outgrown shoes once belonging to Kent youngsters are now walking all over the world thanks to the work of one small charity in the county.

Sal's Shoes was launched by mum CJ Bowry in November 2013 after she attempted to send her son Sal's outgrown but not outworn shoes to another child desperately in need.

Having accumulated a bag full of shoes in quite a short space of time - all still with plenty of life left in them - CJ began inquiring with organisations as to where she could send the shoes and where they consequently might end up.

She explained: "My son is 9 now but he had not been long walking and I had already accumulated a bag full of his outgrown but not outworn shoes. I don't know why it bothered me but I think it was the cost of the shoe and how much wear they had in them.

"I asked charities where they went. I wanted to know that others would be getting them for free and that they would be worn again."

Struggling to get answers, and having grown up in Africa as the daughter of a civil engineer, and with friends still in Zambia where she'd gone to primary school, CJ sent a bag of shoes from her home in Edenbridge to a friend who was out there volunteering and thought no more about it.

But a short time later she received a series of photographs of the shoes being passed down - including one of a very small boy wearing her son's first shoes.

She explained: "One little boy was wearing Sal's very first shoes and they had become his first pair of shoes. I put that photo on my facebook page and I was inundated with messages from friends offering their own shoes."

Children in Nicaragua being fitted with donated shoes
Children in Nicaragua being fitted with donated shoes

A further collection was made, more shoes were sent and more photos were received of children from communities in need benefitting hugely from the shoes sent by families in Kent.

With more than 150 messages frequently dropping into her inbox from friends, and friends of friends, offering outgrown children's shoes, CJ began to realise her small project, with the help of social media, could become something able to benefit hundreds more children around the world.

"My husband was working at home and I think I said to him 'I need to do something with this shoes thing'. This was a Wednesday and I was registered by the Friday" she said.

With her son Sal as the inspiration, CJ chose to name the organisation Sal's Shoes.

Six years on and more than 1.5 million pairs of shoes have been donated by families, schools and community groups and sent to 45 countries around the world, including to other parts of the UK. Sal's Shoes are increasingly now contacted by charities, organisations or communities in need who request a donation as word has steadily spread.

More than 1.5 million pairs of shoes have been collected since 2013
More than 1.5 million pairs of shoes have been collected since 2013

The arrival of daughter Clemie, now six, has also led the charity to branch out a little with Clemie's class having already collected a large amount of outgrown children's dressing up outfits which, under the name 'Clemie's Clothes' have been sent to a school in South Africa.

A further collection for children in Malawi is planned for February.

Cj with son Sal and daughter Clemie
Cj with son Sal and daughter Clemie

After some time in free warehouse space Sal's Shoes, which relies solely on volunteers, has also now been forced to move into rented storage and office space with CJ, who works for the charity full time, hoping to pay herself a small salary for the first time this year.

Anyone wishing to donate can either post shoes or drop them off to the charity in person but donors are asked to make sure the shoes are clean, paired with an elastic band and Sal's shoes asks for a donation of £1 per pair to help the shoes on their way to their next owner.

CJ said she is aware that's quite a request. "We do ask quite a lot of people" she said.

"But we are built on the premise that we know where Sal's Shoes are walking again and that's really important to me. We know where school donations go.

"We can tell you where and which orphanages took winter footwear and we can contact donors and let them know."

The instagram account Sal's Shoes is full of pictures of children around the world receiving their new shoes - often with the name label of their original owner still in them.

And if handwritten notes are sent to the children or charity by youngsters sending their shoes, CJ says volunteers will do their level best to send a letter back with some details as to where those pairs have gone.

To learn more about where to send your shoes and how to include the £1 donation requested, please click here.

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