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Crown Heights Nonprofit Making a Difference, One Sole at a Time

Brooklyn stylist-turned-altruist Andre McDonnell was awarded a $30,000 grant for his nonprofit It's From The Sole, which puts shoes on the feet of the city's less fortunate.
Andre McDonnell, (right) with a client trying on some fresh kicks. Photo: Provided.

Nothing feels better than unboxing a pair of new sneakers -- except maybe donating them.

That's exactly what Crown Heights nonprofit It's From The Sole does on the daily -- donating refurbished sneakers to people in need. And it just won a $30,000 grant from Squarespace and the New York Knicks to increase its impact.

The grant is part of the "Make It Awards," which provides four tri-state area businesses with funds, mentorship and publicity to take their businesses to the next level.

Andre McDonnell, who worked in fashion for many years, had a closet full of sneakers from clients and colleagues when he started his nonprofit seven years ago. It all started when he took sneakers off of his own feet to give to a shoeless individual.

Andre McDonnell with donated shoes.  Photo: Supplied.
Andre McDonnell with donated shoes. Photo: Supplied.

"I thought, how many other gentlemen like this are in New York, and how many shoes do I have in my closet just to say I have?" McDonnell said.

To this day, McDonnell's team has distributed over 30,000 pairs of donated sneakers to the less fortunate all across New York City, the United States and more than 15 countries.

All shoes are donated from individuals, businesses and shoe brands, and schools. The shoes are cleaned and renewed by hand and updated with new laces and insoles.

Andre McDonnell rocking  an It's From The Sole  jacket. Photo: Supplied.
Andre McDonnell rocking an It's From The Sole jacket. Photo: Supplied.

McDonnell's team of devoted do-gooders host bi-weekly sneaker distribution events in major cities including New York, DC and Philadelphia. McDonnell said these events prioritize the dignity of the client.

"We're all about service, respect, and comfort," McDonnell said.

"Many less fortunate people don't know what size they are, because their feet might have grown since the last time they had shoes, or their feet might be swollen, so they have to find shoes that fit and are comfortable."

At each event, all sizes -- including half sizes -- are available for all ages. Events are set up like a socially distanced shoe store, complete with a trying-on section where volunteers assist each client in finding the perfect fit and style. For younger clients, volunteers help them find a shoe with room to grow into.

In November 2020, Borough President Eric Adams awarded It's From The Sole for its efforts in Brownsville, Bushwick, Crown Heights and Bed Stuy, McDonnell said.

 "The last thing parents should worry about right now is their child's sneakers," McDonnell said. "Sneaker culture is so expensive. We are the sneaker-experience store for parents who can't afford."

Miranda Levingston

About the Author: Miranda Levingston

Miranda Levingston is an award-winning reporter and editor passionate about covering the change-makers in her borough.
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