Riley Letson is proof that one doesn’t have to be a grown up to make a real difference in the world. The Glynn County middle schooler started doing that she was just 9 years old, back in 2016.
That’s when the devout little girl felt God speaking to her, telling her to found a charity to help those in need of shoes. It may seem a simple goal but it is an important one. And with the help of her parents, Kim and Brandon Letson, she created her own nonprofit, Riley’s Soles for Souls.
They started collecting shoes locally, and through their church, Centerpoint, the family connected with the Appalachian Regional Ministries, which includes Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, where they disrupted shoes. The first collection round yielded more than 500 pairs of shoes, which they took to West Virginia.
But Riley wanted to do more. Over the years, the mission continued to grow and expand. That, understandably, makes Riley proud.
“It’s cool for something so small the first year to we started now. The first we collected only 550 pairs of shoes and now we collect about 1,500 to 2,000 pairs of shoes a year. In total, we’ve collected around 8,000 shoes,” she said.
The family has returned to the same communities, building strong bonds with those who live there.
“It started as one trip to West Virginia before school started in fall, and now it’s two to three trips a year. They’re like family now,” she said.
Riley also traveled to give shoes to those impacted by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle.
“Mrs. Regina, who lives in Port St. Joe (Florida) calls us her ‘shoe people.’ We’ve delivered over 600 pairs of shoes just to the people hit by Hurricane Michael alone. They depend on us,” she said.
While maintaining those relationships are important for the organization, the mission for Riley’s Souls for Soles has changed. The group now collects shoes year-around to allow more of a local impact, as well.
“We have permanent collection boxes in businesses in Brunswick, too.
“We help with year-round collection of shoes because we know that we have to help people in our community,” she said.
Of course, the outreach is still a key part of Riley’s vision. In fact, the pre-teen is hoping to travel to the Bahamas to offer shoes to those hit during the devastating Hurricane Dorian over the fall and winter months.
But to do that, Riley needs a little bit of help.
That is why the nonprofit is hosting a Sole Jam from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Mary Ross Waterfront Park in downtown Brunswick. There will be food trucks and three bands providing entertainment. At 2 p.m., 3 Day Weekend will take to the stage, followed by Squirt Gun at 3:30 p.m. and at 5 p.m. Idle Hands. There will also be raffles and games at the family-friendly event.
Admission is simply $5 or a pair of shoes for donation. Riley says that this will help continue their mission.
“We are trying to get shoes to the Bahamas in November or December. Hopefully, the event will help us with that. ServePro is helping with the shoe donation, raffle tickets, give-away and advertising,” she said.
“Everything we collect through this event will help us with our mission to help others. All donations go directly to helping as many people as possible. As for our future plans, we are serving God. Wherever he calls us to go, we will go and will continue to do this as long as we are needed.”