Teen Collects 30,000 Pairs of Shoes to Donate ‘Dignity’ to LA Homeless

For children raised in the Jewish faith, a bar or bat mitzvah is the celebration of the symbolic passage into adulthood. While at age 13, we’re not truly grown up, we can begin to see our place in the larger world.

What Lindsay Sobel saw in the months leading up to her own bat mitzvah was that a life of privilege wasn’t a blessing that everyone shared—and she was determined to do something about it.

As she became increasingly aware of the day-to-day hurdles homeless people living on the streets of Los Angeles faced, one thing Sobel saw time and again was how many lacked proper footwear.

“I noticed a lot of them were in really awful living conditions, no way any person should have to live. On top of that, I noticed a lot of them did not even have shoes on,” she said in an interview with A Mighty Girl. “At 12 years old, I was like, ‘Wow, people don’t have shoes?’ It kind of put things into perspective for me.”

For her Tikkun Olam—an “act of repairing the world” central to the bat mitzvah ceremony—Sobel came up with the idea to launch Shoes for Soles, a charitable outreach program that collects and distributes shoes for Southern Californians in need.

“Part of the requirement for having a bar or bat mitzvah is that in some way you give back to your community, give back to the world,” Sobel told KNX-1070 News Radio. “I decided I wanted to give back as big as I could.”

Since its inception, Shoes for Soles has “re-homed” 30,000-plus pairs of gently used shoes collected during school shoe drives and from shout-outs to her fellow volleyball players and their families.

When the coronavirus pandemic caused many of her usual sources to dry up, Sobel took to the Internet to solicit donations via the Next Door app. The trickle became a steady flow once more.

Sobel only accepts shoes in good condition. “I want to try to give the best experience to all the people,” she told A Mighty Girl. “…A fresh, new pair of shoes can really brighten someone’s day, brighten their attitude, and their outlook on life.”

Shoes are such a simple thing, but the repercussions of not having them can impact everything from health to mobility to the possibility of looking for work. “That one pair of shoes could change someone’s life,” Sobel told KNX-1070.

Sobel’s mission to help people who are down at heel put their best foot forward is obviously something she believes in heart and “sole.” While she’s received numerous accolades for her efforts, seeing the impact her act of repairing the world has had on her community has been its own reward.

A recent visit to the Beach Mission gave Sobel an opportunity to see how her all hard work is paying off. “There are [so] many homeless people right now and the challenge for me is how can I help as many of them as possible,” she told the Los Angeles Daily News. “It was a chance to see who I’m giving the shoes to in person. I felt pretty good about myself and great about the community.”