Hundreds of millions of children in this world have no shoes to wear, and it's an unfortunate fact that many of them die each from parasites that bore into their feet. That has to stop, says Manny Ohonme, president and CEO of Samaritan's Feet, a faith-based organization dedicated to stopping upwards of a million deaths due to foot parasites.
"It is absolutely unacceptable for so many kids to have no shoes," he says from the non-profit's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. "Children should never have to die because they have no shoes. They should never have to lose their feet to amputation because they have contracted illnesses. They should never have to suffer embarrassment or ridicule because they have no shoes or because what they have is full of holes or are several sizes too small."
Samaritan's Feet, a 5019(c)3 non-profit, has been working with manufacturers and retailers for the past 10 years to provide free shoes for kids in underdeveloped nations and areas around the world. It claims to have some 70,000 volunteers working with it in 60 countries now.
The inspiration came when Ohonme (pronounced Oh-homey; the 'n' is silent) returned to Nigeria for his father's funeral and saw once again the vast number of shoeless children. He had received his own first pair from a missionary, and says that gift instilled hope that he could overcome the poverty around him. Ohonme won a scholarship to college in the United States and began his professional career in the logistics industry. But the trip back home moved him to establish Samaritan's Feet.
In the first five years of operation, the charity dispensed perhaps a million shoes altogether, Ohonme says. Then, in 2009, a donation of one million pairs of athletic shoes was offered. A gift like that couldn't be passed up, but there was a seemingly insurmountable problem: the donor, Sears Holdings, which was closing out shoes to make way for a new line in its Kmart stores around the country, gave only a two-week window for the non-profit to pick up the shoes from Sears flow-through centers nationwide. The immediate challenge for Samaritan's Feet was to somehow line up trucks and adequate warehousing, none of which the charitable organization possessed. The charity was building out its own warehouse at the time, but it was incapable of taking in anywhere near that much product.
"Think about it: I'm about to drink from a fire hose," Ohonme says. "What in the world is this transportation and distribution and warehouse network going to look like?"
Enter Transportation Insight, a non-asset-based third-party logistics services provider headquartered in Hickory, N.C., outside Charlotte. Likewise, a faith-based organization, says founder and chairman Paul Thompson, the company and its employees are encouraged to engage in philanthropic endeavors. The 3PL took on the role of "mission-oriented" partner of Samaritan's Feet.
The charity became a client of Transportation Insight, whose services would be free. But most carriers and warehousing partners would insist on payment of some kind, says Thompson. It was the 3PL's task to arrange as many discounts and outright donations of services as it could as non-profit organizations typically are cash-strapped to begin with. Samaritan's Feet was no different.
Clay Gentry, Transportation Insight's vice president for logistics operations, became the general on the ground. Several hundred truckloads of shoes ultimately were picked up from Sears return centers and taken to warehouses - when possible. In many instances there simply was no space left to immediately receive additional shipments, Gentry says. His job was to convince carriers to agree to leave capacity, filled with shoes, idle in their yards until space was freed up and the product could be transported to receiving areas. In some cases, that meant tying up trailers for more than a week, he says.
Ultimately, the operation ended up with two primary warehouses. One of those involved space in Indiana, which the governor there ordered made available. Inmates, as well as volunteers, processed shoes in that facility. The other main warehouse was a 100,000-square-foot facility in a Charlotte business park owned by a Transportation Insight client.
The "sort-and-seg" operation was complicated because of the jumbled nature of the returns, Gentry says. "Just imagine, things were coming back in any old kind of box - appliance boxes or what have you, and shoes were just tossed in there."
To be usable, shoes had to be matched style for style and size for size, and they had to be re-boxed. "Some of them didn't even have laces, so you had to check on that."
Every night after work, Transportation Insight volunteers traveled from Hickory to the donor's warehouse in Charlotte, where they helped unload trucks, often with donated forklift equipment, then processed the many shoes.
Says Gentry, "Here's the business challenge: you've got this really short window to get this stuff moved out from Sears, but you have to find capacity at contribution rates that a non-profit could afford. That's not easy."
Ohonme immediately began working with his network of organizations to distribute the shoes overseas. While Transportation Insight lined up some of the freight forwarders needed, Samaritan's Feet already had a fairly extensive network in that area it could use because of its previous export efforts. The Sears Holdings donation was so large it took just under two years to move all of the product through the pipeline to such places as Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan.
"I was the first person in my family to wear shoes," Ohonme says, "but it wasn't until I returned to Nigeria for my father's funeral that I said, 'Somebody has to help these kids.' I didn't know at that time that that somebody was going to be me."
Keywords: transportation management, distribution services, warehouse management, WMS, inventory control, supply chain management, logistics & supply chain, humanitarian logistics
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