Nick Lowinger, a 7th grader from Cranston, Rhode Island knew exactly what to do for his Mitzvah Project after visiting a shelter with his Mom Lori, an art therapist. He was very taken by all the kids he met and how little they had.
During his visit, one boy asked for boots and Nick gave him the ones he was wearing. It was the boy’s first pair of winter boots and it motivated Nick to keep giving.
Nick and his family started, Gotta Have Sole, a foundation that delivers brand-new sneakers and shoes to children, from infancy through age 17 who are living in homeless shelters. Currently all of the shelters are in Rhode Island, but plans are to expand into neighboring states in the near future.
Their foundation has received shoe donations from Ed Hardy and Stuart Weitzman and uses the family’s garage as a shoe store. In just under a year, Lowinger has received more than $18,000 in monetary and shoe donations and just celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in November – now he is really a Sole Man!!
The Lowinger garage has been taken over by their foundation, Gotta Have Sole
We spoke to Nick about his Mitzvah Project to learn more:
MM: Can you give us details about your Mitzvah Project?
NL: The Gotta Have Sole Foundation started a year ago and donates new shoes to children at homeless shelters. We have already given 250 pairs of shoes away this year. Most people donate used shoes to shelters. While these shoes provide adequate shoe covering, everyone wears out their shoes differently, and therefore these are not the best fit for someone else. I wanted to try and provide new shoes and sneakers so children can break them in, and this will be a much better for them. Gotta Have Sole is currently working with five shelters, including the Rhode Island Family Shelter and the Women’s Center in Providence. Shelters will call or e-mail and tell us what they need.
MM: Why did you decide to take on this particular project?
NL: When I was 5 years old, I began going to shelters with my mother where she worked as an art therapist. I saw kids without shoes and went home to collect all of my gently used clothing and shoes to bring back to the shelter. A little boy took a pair of my shoes that were much too big for him, but he was so happy anyway because they were his first pair of shoes. I wished I had had his correct size. To this day I continue to donate my gently used clothing to area shelters. But, when selecting a Bar Mitzvah project, I remembered that experience with the little boy and knew that donating brand-new shoes to homeless children was what I wanted to do. Brand-new shoes allow children to break in the shoes themselves and can also help kids feel better about themselves. Since I did not want to stop this after I became a Bar Mitzvah, I looked into incorporating it as a non-profit business. I am proud to add that Gotta Have Sole is also a 501(c)3 public charity with tax-exempt status.
Nick carrying his donations
MM: If it involves a donation, what are you doing to spread the word?
NL: Gotta Have Sole Foundation, Inc. has a Facebook fanpage with over 450 fans. I post updates a few times a week so people can see what I have been doing. I have been interviewed by 3 local newspapers here in Rhode Island, as well by students from my former school, and have made presentations to my Temple’s congregation and Sunday school classes and my Middle School. I have also written many letters to corporations and have called many shoe manufacturers for donations. Gotta Have Sole is currently putting together a Website.
MM: Does your project have a start and end date, if so what are they?:
NL: I started this project in February 2010, when I opened Gotta Have Sole Foundation as a non-profit company. There is no end date for this project as I expect to be donating new footwear to kids throughout my lifetime. During this school year I hope to organize a walk-a-thon or some other event where I hope to get a lot of people from my temple, my neighborhood, and my school to participate. My goal is to have each person walking in the walk-a-thon to either get sponsors who will donate dollars for the amount of laps/miles the person walks, or that each person will bring with them to the walk-a-thon a brand-new pair of sneakers or shoes. There is also a concert being planned and I hope that people attending will either donate monetarily, or donate brand-new footwear.
MM: In your own words, what does it mean to you to do a Mitzvah Project for your Bar Mitzvah?
NL: I think it is very important for kids to give back to their communities and to pick something they feel passionate about. Including Mitzvah Projects as part of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience helps kids figure out what is important to them. Kids have great ideas and can make a difference in the world. Picking a Mitzvah Project that has helped so many children has been extremely rewarding for me and it has also been a great learning experience.
We would like to thank Nick and his Mom Lori for sharing this amazing project with our Mitzvah Market readers.