- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. (AP) - As people wonder how to give back this holiday season, 10-year-old Elli Hurst is simply asking residents to open their closets.

Elli, of Hedgesville, is collecting new and gently used shoes to donate to the nonprofit organization Soles4Souls, which distributes shoes internationally. Elli and her family began to collect shoes on her birthday, with a goal to collect 1,100 pairs of shoes by her 11th birthday.

“I really like helping people. I know there’s a lot of people that don’t have a lot of money, so it’s good to help those people,” she said.

With about three months left to complete her goal, Elli has collected about 800 pairs of shoes in a stockpile in her basement that is taller than she is. She is hoping to have a holiday rush this winter to help her complete her goal from people looking to donate or who need to make room in their closets.

While the majority of shoes are donated through a collection box in her father’s office, Elli has also placed fliers throughout the community and her school, Potomack Intermediate.

“We put a box out in my dad’s office and we did one at my school. We asked people that don’t live in West Virginia through social media and Facebook,” Elli said, receiving packages of shoes from across the country, including Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Ohio.

While Elli knew she wanted to do an outreach program for her birthday, it was her mom Candi that presented the idea of Soles4Souls.

“I noticed that she just really does love helping people, and it just helps her grow as a person. She thrives doing that. I was looking for a project that would be good for her. I love Soles4Souls because I don’t like asking people for money. It’s hard to donate money to every cause,” Candi said.

So far, more women’s shoes have been donated than men’s, with high heels as the most donated type of shoe, Elli said. Soles4Souls accepts all types of shoes, from athletic to heels, boots, running shoes and flip flops. According to its website, the organization has distributed 22 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries since 2006.

“We have gotten so much help. We wouldn’t be able to do it without everyone at her school and just throughout the community and the community at large. It’s been really touching that people decided to help. We get really excited when a box shows up at the door,” Candi said.

When the Soles4Souls project is complete in February, the family will likely engage in another charitable campaign, either through the same nonprofit organization or a different one because of the positive benefits for the community and the family, Candi said.

“Especially for girls her age, it’s so nice to do. It’s been such a self-esteem booster for her. It’s so nice to do it to help other people, and it really does come back tenfold. As a parent, you really see that,” she said.

When she reaches her goal, Elli wants to have a ceremonial delivery of the shoes to Soles4Souls’ headquarters in Old Hickory, Tennessee, despite a dropoff location for the organization in Winchester, Virginia, because of how involved she has become in the project.

Residents who wish to donate shoes can do so by dropping them off at the Center for Dermatology at 1000 Sushruta Drive or contacting Candi at candianderik@hotmail.com.

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Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/

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