Jeff Wells, Robin Telfian, and David Hewlett.

Runners are helping the homeless get back on their feet

It’s called SHOOD (Shoes for Good), and it all started when runner Robin Telfian of Richmond, Virginia, was volunteering at her church’s food pantry. One of the regular guests she had befriended, David Hewlett, showed her his shoes, which had holes in the soles, and asked her to help find him a new pair. “I believe we’re all put on this planet to help one another, ” says Telfian, about wanting to assist Hewlett.

“David asked what happens to runners’ shoes after a big race,” recalls Telfian. “That was the big question. Light bulbs went off. I remember thinking, ‘This is a big moment.’”

Telfian asked Hewlett to join her in this mission because “David knows the community we are serving. He’s lived on the streets. He understands what’s needed. He’s all about the dignity piece.”

Teaming up with volunteer community partners such as Fleet Feet running store owner Jeff Wells, who collects running shoe donations at his two Richmond Fleet Feet stores, SHOOD is profoundly transforming thousands of lives.

“The idea a runner can run past someone they can turn around and help is really powerful,” says Telfian.

SHOOD volunteers clean and recondition the used running shoes to look like brand new. 

“We’re picky about shoes we give away, no holes, no tears, good treads on the bottom,” explains Telfian.

One guest at a giveaway thanked Telfian saying, “What you all are doing is different. You aren’t giving me a pair of shoes you wouldn’t wear yourselves.”

Telfian believes, “Everybody deserves a comfortable well-fitted pair of shoes. The folks we serve, the primary mode of transportation is walking.”

And for some guests, they turn into runners after receiving the donated shoes. A Richmond 10K training team with volunteer coaches decided to help recipients reach a running goal by completing a race.

“There’s something magical that happens when people get the right pair of shoes. It’s kind of that Cinderella moment. You know the shoe goes on and the face lights up, and it’s happiness. One man did a happy dance. We have that all the time, those moments where you know what you’re doing matters.”

-Robin Telfian

It mattered to Peter Zetts, one of the recipients of donated shoes who joined the 10K training team. Struggling with drug addiction from challenges in life, the running offered new hope for better ahead. “It’s a natural antidepressant,” says Zetts, about the healthier road he’s taking.

What has also affected him is the caring of the dedicated volunteers at SHOOD, the 10K training team volunteers, CARITAS, and The Healing Place. “They don’t have to do this. They’re sacrificing a lot of their free time. Yet they volunteer to invest in you.”

And on race day, the donated running shoes meant a lot to Zetts. “I think it helps you feel more a part of the community, not so cast out, as you do as an addict.”

“I feel this is what I’m meant to do,” Telfian reflects, at a running shoe giveaway. “I can watch it all unfold, the connections our guests and our volunteers have together, and the conversations that are much bigger than shoes.” 

More Biking in the Blue Ridge from our September Bike Issue Here