Non-profit Kicks 4 The City is changing lives one pair of shoes at a time

The organization is trying to spark the minds of everyday individuals to get involved in their communities by showing them you don’t need money — just time to make a difference.

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One young man smiles as he holds his new pair of Nikes from Kicks 4 The City’s 2018 shoe drive.

One young man smiles as he holds his new pair of Nikes from Kicks 4 The City’s 2018 shoe drive.

Mike Patton/Provided

Entering its eighth year, the Chicago-based nonprofit Kicks 4 The City has distributed more than 86,000 shoes in 10 cities across the United States and internationally. It all started with a chance encounter in St. Louis.

Kicks 4 The City founder Justin Johnson was 24 years old when he met a young homeless man there by the name of Montrel. It was the fall of 2012, and Johnson was walking out of a grocery store in the city’s downtown area when Montrel approached him and asked, “Do you have any spare change?”

“I hit him with that same routine response, that I’m sorry I don’t have anything,” Johnson said. “I got in the car and something just hit me, so I got out and said, ‘My name’s Justin, if you don’t mind me asking what’s your situation right now?’ ”

That conversation turned into multiple sit-down conversations between the two. During one, Johnson noticed Montrel’s shoes. They were beat up, his toes were poking through the worn leather, and the soles were as thin as paper. When Johnson asked if those were his only pair of shoes, he looked at Johnson proudly and replied, “Yes, they are.”

Johnson immediately thought of the lightly worn shoes filling his closet at home, and in that moment Kicks 4 The City was born. Within two months, Johnson and his grass-roots team pulled together 500 pairs of shoes to donate to three different homeless shelters in the St. Louis area.

Following its inaugural year in 2013, Johnson really didn’t have high expectations for the organization. He was moving to Chicago to begin his career as a financial adviser and thought that needed his full attention. When his cousin, Javin Daniels, called and asked how they could keep it going, Johnson took one night to sleep on it. He woke up the next morning, called Daniels and said he was all-in on making it an annual shoe drive.

In its second year Kicks 4 The City expanded to Charlotte (where Daniels was located) and to Johnson’s new home of Chicago. They collected and distributed more than four times the amount of shoes they did in 2012, bringing in 2,100 pairs to donate across the three cities.

In 2014, Harvey native and “Chicago P.D.” star LaRoyce Hawkins heard about the cause and decided to get involved.

“After he told me about his movement and how he was helping the homeless, I was in,” Hawkins said. “I was excited about the opportunity to help create a lane for the working class to give back.”

Kicks 4 The City is trying to spark the minds of everyday individuals to get involved in their communities by showing them you don’t need money — just time to make a difference.

Today, Kicks 4 The City has seven participating cities: St. Louis, Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York City and New Orleans.

 Kicks 4 The City founder Justin Johnson speaks with volunteers at the 2018 distribution day event.

Kicks 4 The City founder Justin Johnson speaks with volunteers at the 2018 distribution day event.

Mike Patton/Provided

Each year, all the participating cities begin the shoe drive in early November. Ambassadors collect new and gently used shoes from various drop-off locations and social events in each city. The drive is followed up by a volunteer night where shoes are cleaned and prepared to be dropped off at shelters and participating organizations. It culminates every third Saturday of November with a distribution day on which volunteers bring the collected shoes to shelters and organizations with which Kicks 4 The City has partnered.

In the summer of 2017, Kicks 4 The City expanded globally. After teaming up with a local artist in Chicago, Solomon Adufah and his organization, Homeland Africa, they were able to take 300 brand new shoes to local residents and organizations in Accra, Ghana.

“To be able to not only ship the shoes over there but go over there and physically distribute to the kids,” Johnson said, “it’s definitely something we want to do again. We were really able to see the true impact.”

Kicks 4 The City founder, Justin Johnson helps one gentleman try on his new pair of shoes.

Kicks 4 The City founder, Justin Johnson helps one gentleman try on his new pair of shoes.

Mike Patton/Provided

What started as an idea to donate shoes to homeless shelters has expanded to making donations to schools, youth sports programs, community organizations and international communities with the help of the organizations official sponsor, The Athlete’s Foot.

In 2018, Kicks 4 The City collected 15,000 shoes in its participating cities in the United States. In Chicago they donated to groups throughout the city such as Faraday Elementary School, The Night Ministry, Swish Youth Basketball Program, 360 Sports Academy and Pacific Garden Mission.

Growing up and even now, Johnson said he understands the power in a fresh pair of sneakers. A person’s shoes carry them, hold them up and support their body and therefore their dreams.

Johnson believes every person should feel that same power in their shoes.

For more information on Kicks 4 The City and how you can get involved, visit www.kicks4thecity.org.

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