By Erin Dunne, UD Athletics Media Relations Student Intern

To a runner, a pair of shoes is everything. It is the vessel that carries them through the highs and lows of the course, protects their feet in harsh conditions, and moves with their rhythmic footsteps as they push through a particularly hard trail. A runner’s main guide to survival, in addition to athleticism, is a pair of running sneakers. 

On average, a competitive runner goes through at least six pairs of shoes each year. After running shoes reach their limitation on miles, they are usually tossed mindlessly into the trash. Yet, to some, shoes are not just a way to exercise; they are an opportunity to improve their quality of life and considered a luxury to possess.

The necessity of shoes to the people of Ghana mirrors the necessity of shoes to the University of Delaware’s cross country team in the sense that they provide protection, opportunity, and stability to their daily lives.

This reflection is recognized by the Blue Hens, which is why they partake in an annual charity program in association with the MORE Foundation to provide the less fortunate in Ghana and help improve their quality of life. They do this through accepting donations of used shoes, which the MORE Foundation accepts and then uses to fuel a family or an individual in Ghana with the means to provide for themselves.

The MORE Foundation is particularly unique in regards to other charities in the sense that they are mutually beneficial to both those who are receiving the aid and those who are donating. The foundation works to minimalize or even eliminate the carbon footprint of those who are donating through using a pair of shoes to sequester carbon from the air through recycling the shoes. The MORE Foundation then plants trees for a family or an individual in Ghana to tend to and eventually use as means of removing themselves out of poverty through different uses of the trees.

When one pair of shoes is collected, that will sequester one ton of carbon, and in turn, one pair of shoes can become 10 trees for a family to have.  With the trees that are planted, the family can harvest the trees, use them for nutritional benefits, and learn about how to properly care for agriculture.

According to the foundation’s director, Jim Riordan, “There are thousands of old or used sneakers sitting in closets across the United States” that could be used for this cause.

Riordan also speaks about the impact of the University’s success with the program, stating, “Obviously, the University of Delaware is in a position to collect thousands of shoes and sequester thousands of tons of carbon.”

“Poverty could be eradicated while zeroing out our carbon footprint,” Riordan sums up the ideals of the program.

By simply collecting and donating pairs of shoes, the women of the Delaware track and cross country teams are making a difference that will change people’s lives for the better in Ghana and the United States. They are providing protection and opportunity with a simple pair of shoes, just like a pair of shoes can provide for them during a race.

“We are all runners, we all have a million pairs of shoes laying around, what better way to help out a community across the world than to give them our extra shoes,” senior captain Melissa Mazzo (Webster, N.Y./Webster Thomas) notes when mentioning the team’s personal connection with the cause.

In the two years that the Blue Hens have been involved, they have collected upward of 700 shoes to be donated to the MORE Foundation’s cause.

Delaware originally became involved when head coach Wendy McFarlane challenged the team to come up with ideas on how to get involved in their community.

The Hens jumped eagerly into their new project, where they had boxes at four different events for the team throughout the first year and one box thus far this year. In addition to having the boxes present at specific events, donations can be made every day at practice. 

“The box is there every day at practice; it’s great to see someone put a pair of shoes in and see the shoes piling up in the box,” Mazzo comments.

The women take pride in not only their accomplishments on the course, but their accomplishments in the involvement in this charity. They are able to give back to the community, while supporting a cause that is close to their hearts.

“Each of our shoes has almost 400 miles to it.  As silly as it can be, everyone gets a little attached to their shoes, so it’s nice to see it go to a good cause,” remarks Mazzo.  

McFarlane says that the charity is successful in bringing the girls together, since the teammates collaborate off the course to help design flyers, plan days for the boxes to be held, and help promote the charity through social media. 

The team’s involvement has been essential in fostering a bond between the girls, the coach, and the charity.

McFarlane mentions that this is her favorite part about the connection between the MORE Foundation and her team, stating, “It creates a unified effort and the girls engage in it, they own it as their charity.”

Participation in the program also carries over to the spring, when the track and field team becomes involved, so the team’s bond is further strengthened as they come together to partake in the event. 

“We are a large team, so it is hard to define us by just one thing,” notes McFarlane.  “This charity gives us an opportunity to help others who are less fortunate.”

Similarly, Mazzo comments, “It is really neat to have everyone rally for and get excited for one thing, since we don’t always get to see one another.”

Clearly, the benefits of participating in this program spread wider than just the cause itself, as it helps the team focus on something as a whole unit.

While the life of a runner is constantly “on the go,” particularly in college, McFarlane stresses the importance of taking the time out of their busy schedules to help those who are less fortunate.

The positive effect has revealed itself in the amount of shoes the girls have collected, the attitudes towards giving back, and the bond these girls have created as a team.

McFarlane sums up the sentiments about this fundamental event, exclaiming, “This is a life learning experience. We are athletes, but we are also going out into the world eventually and it is important to give back.”