Mike Barringer is an accidental shoe expert. Barringer, a case worker for homeless men in downtown Dallas, noticed none of his clients ever had adequate shoes. He's spent the past decade fixing the problem -- collecting donated shoes and distributing them to those in need.
Barringer created The Shoe Bank, a one-man operation determined to put shoes on as many homeless people as possible. And what started as local has now gone global.
U.S. soldiers give Barringer's shoes to children in Afghanistan. Now, he's preparing to send 10,000 to 15,000 pairs of shoes to earthquake victims in Haiti.
"I know that one pair of shoes will mean something to somebody, somewhere," he said.
The Shoe Bank began in Barringer's garage a decade ago after he saw the sorry state of footwear of the homeless.
"We had a clinic there and treated them for blisters and sores on their feet all the time," he said. "I was surprised we never had shoes available for them."
Barringer decided there had to be something he could do.
"I just had the thought to ask some city tennis centers if they wouldn't mind putting a box out to collect athletic shoes."
Through the years, what started as a few donations in a couple of cardboard boxes turned into mountains of shoes and non-profit organization.
"I was teaching scuba diving part time and had a business doing that, and I thought that would be what I'd be doing," he said. "But this just took over."
As the business grew, he relocated from his garage to donated space in an office building.
"I get people sending me shoes from New York, Pennsylvania, California," he said, "and I'm just really surprised by that."
Barringer builds the wooden donation boxes, finds the locations across North Texas to set them up in and picks up the shoes from 200 locations by himself. He is the founder, CEO and only employee of The Shoe Bank.
"When I pick up the shoes in different places around town, they think I"m working for The Shoe Bank," he said. "I say, 'No, I am The Shoe Bank.'"
In fact, he shoulders most of the costs associated with the company from his personal finances, grants and donations-- taking very little home for himself. Shoe donations grew so quickly that Barringer had to work The Shoe Bank full time in order to keep up.
"I probably collect about 40,000 to 50,000 pair a year," he said. "Only about 25,000 pair get given away because a lot of the shoes aren't in good enough shape to pass on."
The shoes that don't meet the cut, Barringer donates to Nike who recycles them. To him, all the hard work is worth it, knowing the gently-used shoes he's collected that once only helped homeless men in Downtown Dallas, now help those in need of some sole support at charities across North Texas and globally. Some of the donated shoes go to kids in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and parts of Africa.
"I think probably 80 percent of what I collect and distribute now are kids shoes," he said
You can call him the shoe man, or the man with plenty of soul, but he says he's just doing the right thing, changing lives one shoe at a time.
Donation boxes are in 170 schools across North Texas as well as dozens of retailers. Find more information about where you can donate shoes or funds to The Shoe Bank by going to www.shoebank.org.