Fox Chapel Garden Club giving old tennis shoes new life

About 1,000 pairs of gently used shoes will be walking into a new life as playground mats, running tracks and basketball courts through the efforts of the Fox Chapel Garden Club.

The annual collection by club members is underway, marking the 15th year for the program that has made an impact both near and far.

“The shoes that are in excellent shape are donated to community groups, like the Free Store in Braddock,” Coordinator Ellen Romsaas said.

The rest that are worn out or otherwise unusable are shipped to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, through which tennis shoes are ground up and converted into carpet underlay, sport courts and rubber mats.

“We would have no success without the community’s participation,” Romsaas said.

“Each year, community members have filled the collection boxes located in various sites throughout the community.”

About 2,000 shoes are donated each year.

Founded in 1990, the Nike program has collected 28 million shoes for recycling.

According to the company website, the program welcomes shoes that “can’t handle another mile, trip up the court or cut across the field.”

Athletic shoes at the end of their road are recycled through the Nike Grind program, an offshoot of the company’s Move to Zero journey towards zero waste.

The program is an easy way for materials to live on from one product to the nest, according to the website.

Any brand of athletic shoes is accepted as long as they are without cleats. No sandals, boots or dress shoes will be taken.

The shoe collection was started 15 years ago by Garden Club member Susie Williams.

She has shepherded the project since.

Brightly colored boxes have started popping up throughout the community, at places like local churches, gyms, schools, libraries and community centers.

The project will run three months, through the end of October. Collection sites are monitored by club members, with shoes being collected at regular intervals and as-needed, brought to the child of a fellow club member who offered the space for sorting.

On Oct. 8, volunteers of the garden club’s conservation committee will gather to assess the shoes and split them into good and bad piles.

Each year about 10%, or 100 pairs of shoes, are given away to local charities, Romsaas said.

“The program is a triple win,” she said. “The shoes never reach a landfill, new products are made with the recycled material and the local community gets involved with this environmental cause.

“We want you to get involved! Simply drop used shoes into our collection boxes and we do the rest.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya by email at or via Twitter .

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