Cullen Clair was taken aback by the excess he discovered in his own closet.
Surveying the rows of shoes lining the floor, the University of South Carolina senior marketing and management student was struck by just how many pairs — seven to be exact — he rarely, if ever, used.
“I didn’t realize how many I have that I didn’t wear,” he said. “That triggered it for me.”
The realization came after Clair, who was considering ideas for his senior thesis in the USC Honors College, had a conversation with his mother, a professional organizer. This week, he’s spearheading a campus-wide drive to help people living in poverty or in the aftermath of natural disasters with a Soles4Souls collection drive.
The Nashville-based charity collects shoes from warehouses of footwear companies — and from the closets of everyday people — and delivers them to those in need. Since 2006, more than 17 million pairs of shoes have been distributed to about 127 countries.
And by week’s end, Clair hopes to boost that number by 500 to 1,500.
Clair has spoken to campus groups, urging them to donate at least one pair of shoes. He’s received some assistance from Soles4Souls, which provided boxes and promotional materials.
“The thing I tried to hammer home to the organizations I spoke with was that everyone has shoes that they don’t use,” he said. “And if I could get everyone to donate one pair, then we could change thousands of lives.”
Along with the speeches, Clair has distributed flyers, put up posters and sent out mass emails. His story also has been published on USC’s website.
“I’ve tried to do it all,” said Clair, who also holds a part-time job.
The shoes that are collected will end up in places such as Kenya, Thailand and Nepal as well as the United States. Hunter Matthews of locally based Minute Man Movers has volunteered to ship the shoes at a discounted rate to a Soles4Souls Distribution Center in Gaffney.
Clair is one of more than 200 Honors College students completing a senior thesis this year.
“The Honors College pushes students to go outside the box,” said Ed Munn Sanchez, associate dean of the Honors College. “A lot of them will do work in their disciplines, but there is always a subset that wants to do something a little different.”
Clair said this is the largest undertaking of this type that he’s been involved with, and he’s eager to see how the school and community respond.
The drive continues through Thursday. And while the drop-off sites are on the USC campus, area residents are invited to take part.
“Everybody can afford to part with one pair,” Clair said. “And with that, we can change thousands of lives.”