How It’s From the Sole Is Making a Difference — One Pair of Sneakers at a Time

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to charity. Over the years, It’s From the Sole founder Andre McDonnell has developed his own system of donating sneakers with a model that emphasizes kindness and empathy.

For instance, he addresses every person as “sir” or “miss” as a sign of respect. And he thanks the person receiving the sneakers for accepting them.

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Also, for people who help distribute footwear with It’s From the Sole, he will explain that the organization doesn’t “gift” sneakers. Instead, it “provides,” which puts emphasis on the service rather than the act of handing out sneakers and walking away.

This system has allowed McDonnell, who is also a salesman at Kith Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y., to dramatically expand the reach of It’s From the Sole.

“I work at Kith also, and a lot of the employees volunteer. I’ve taken some of the employees to Puerto Rico, I took [Kith SoHo salesperson] Marcus Glover to Africa with me. This young gentleman has never been to Africa and I took him with me and we provided hundreds of sneakers to children who’ve never worn a sneaker,” McDonnell told FN. “I work with a lot of companies. I work with Apple, I work with Facebook, I work with Google, Ralph Lauren, MCM and Kith. Kith is the No. 1 sponsor of It’s From the Sole.”

After providing its first pair of sneakers in June 2012 to someone in DeSalvio Playground on Spring Street in N.Y., the nonprofit has now handed out shoes in 19 countries and 53 cities throughout the U.S. What’s more, McDonnell’s organization hit a milestone in October 2023 while in Colombia: 40,000 shoes provided. (In the months since, that number has eclipsed 41,000 sneakers.)

This growth, however, hasn’t come without challenges. McDonnell said he has found himself in several precarious situations, including facing disparaging comments from people passing by and angst from some of the less fortunate people he approaches. (In late November 2023, this editor provided shoes with McDonnell in Penn Station in N.Y. and witnessed both the good and the bad he has experienced throughout his journey.)

Despite these challenges, the work of McDonnell and his organization has paid off, and continues to do so. For instance, Kinnect by Kith, the charitable arm of Kith, profiled McDonnell in late February on its social media platforms for its Love Thy Community initiative, which supports nonprofits that help people in the communities the retailer serves. And late in March, Jake Gyllenhaal and Conor McGregor, stars of the Prime Video film “Road House,” donated the shoes they purchased during their appearance on Complex’s “Sneaker Shopping” YouTube series to It’s From the Sole.

Looking ahead, McDonnell confirmed It’s From the Sole will team up with Hoka to hand out shoes in Los Angeles and Washington D.C., which will take place in late-April and May, respectively. Also, McDonnell is traveling with two dentists to Costa Rica in early May to give sneakers and dental care to those in need.

Here, McDonnell offered thoughts on the 40,000 sneaker milestone with FN and what the rest of 2024 holds for It’s From the Sole.

What does providing 40,000 sneakers mean to you?

“Providing 40,000 sneakers represents a small portion of this big world that we want to continue to help. There are millions of babies, children and adults walking with no sneakers on their feet and it’s not their choice. It’s From the Sole wants to do something about this.”

It's From the Sole
It’s From the Sole surpassed 40,000 shoes provided in October 2023. Courtesy of It’s From the Sole

What were the early days of It’s From the Sole like?

“For the first six years, I had thousands of sneakers in my living room. It got to the point where I said I’ve got to try to find a way to separate the organization from me. We’re getting tons of interviews — we were featured on CNN, NBC, Fox Five News, I was on ‘The Ellen Show,’ so we were getting press and people started recognizing what I was doing. For my safety, I needed to get these sneakers out of my apartment. We now have a storage space where we store all the sneakers.”

How many people are involved with your organization today?

“I have four board members that work with us. The next step is I need to create a volunteer program. The sneaker culture is so crazy right now. Young kids love sneakers more than they love themselves. It’s sad to say. Our organization teaches young kids, ‘I’m not telling you to not love the sneaker culture. Just remember that sneakers are only leather, rubber and cotton, and our skin means more than leather, rubber, cotton.’ When you tell children, ‘We’re going to to help the less fortunate,’ they usually think they’re going to feed them. But when you tell kids, ‘We’re going to help the less fortunate using sneaker culture,’ they are there early. We’re supposed to meet at 11, they’re there at 10 because kids love sneakers. To see kids providing sneakers that they would want for themselves to people who need, it’s amazing. I have this initiative that I call comfort, respect and service. That is what It’s From the Sole is providing. There’s nothing more comfortable than the sneaker. Service is not giving, but providing. And respect is how we speak to less fortunate people. ‘Excuse me, sir.’ ‘Sir?’ They’re not used to sir, they’re not used to miss. We have to change that, we have to let them know that there are organizations like It’s From the Sole who are here to help and provide.”

What does a regular week look like for you?

“I work at Kith three days a week — Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday to Wednesday, it is all It’s From the Sole. I’m either going to pick up sneakers from different companies or I’m at the storage space organizing sneakers. I spend a lot of time in the storage space because we get so many donations and they need to be [organized] by size. And if I’m not organizing sneakers I’m having meetings, I’m trying to meet with companies to see what their giveback component is and see if they can work with our organization. And I handle all the social media. I’ve been doing this now for 11 years, but for five years we’ve got the nonprofit status. We are donation based so I’m still trying to get companies to sponsor and support our organization so I can continue domestically and internationally providing. The biggest concern in our organization is that storage space that we have, it’s a 24-hour space, but we don’t have any sponsorship right now so every month we’re taking care of that storage space. We go to community centers, and we turn them into free sneaker stores. When we go to shelters, we measure these people’s feet before we provide. The longer you don’t wash your feet, the harder your feet get so the majority of the men in shelters who said they were 11, by the time I measure the feet it’s really a 12.5.”

What message are you trying to spread with It’s From the Sole?

“Everyone in today’s society, to me, has some special skill. And if you take that special skill and you give it to someone, that’s from the soul. Me, I love fashion. I’ve worked in retail, I worked in fashion for years and now I am taking this fashion culture and giving it to people who need it. It’s From the Sole, our goal is to show people how enjoyable it can be to help people who are less fortunate. Now there are a percentage of less fortunate people who you need to just leave them alone. Why? They may not be in a mind state to be helped. They yell at you, they curse at you. I’ve been yelled at, I’ve been cursed at, someone tried to spit on me before in the train station. But this is important, especially with the youth. The youth, they run sneaker culture. They know who designed it, they know what leather is used now, they know what factory it was made at, what country is was made at. They’re paying attention to all of that. If I can get some youth and I can teach them that if you love the sneaker culture and you got 100 pairs and you don’t know what to do with four or five of them, provide them.”

It's From the Sole
After establishing It’s From the Sole in 2012, Andre McDonnell has expanded the nonprofit’s reach to 19 countries. … Colombia and Africa Courtesy of It’s From the Sole

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

“Seeing someone with holes in their sneakers, seeing someone with no shoes on or seeing someone wearing a cowboy boot and a sandal. A cowboy boots on his left foot and a sandal on his right foot. Do you know how unbalanced that is? Being able to provide him something super comfortable and a brand new pair of socks, providing him something that I know will change his day.”

Conversely, what are some of the greatest challenges you face?

“The greatest challenges are getting companies to help our organization and getting people to donate. And only if you knew what it takes for us to travel to another country. Before we travel to another country, we have to go to their embassy first and see if we can get a certified letter so when we get to the customs of the country they don’t charge us for the sneakers. It’s a lot of work. It’s not packing 10 to 12 duffel bags and just going to Puerto Rico..”

What are your plans for the rest of 2024?

“The organization’s plan for 2024 is to create a domestic and international volunteer program where young leaders of sneaker culture can learn how to provide to people in need.”

About the Author

Peter Verry is the Senior News and Features Editor for Athletic and Outdoor at Footwear News. He oversees coverage of the two fast-paced and ultracompetitive markets, which includes conducting in-depth interviews with industry leaders and writing stories on sneakers and outdoor shoes. He is a lifelong sneaker addict (and shares his newest purchases via @peterverry on Instagram) and spends most of his free time on a trail. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Hofstra University and can be reached at

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