Gotta Have Sole

By: Nicholas Lowinger

Poverty , Caretaker

The new face of American poverty is often that of a child's.  That's because 1-in-5 children in the USA is poor -- living at or below the federal poverty level.  While our country ranks first in Gross Domestic Product and leads the world in its number of billionaires, it is the second worst country when it comes to child poverty rates -- just ahead of Romania, according to this report.

Shame and low self-esteem have long been considered inherent components of poverty.  That's because poverty involves material and social deprivation.  Not only do poor kids have a higher chance of going to school hungry, they are more likely to be bullied for their tattered clothes and shoes. And if their shoes don't fit, poor kids miss out on activities that most of us take for granted, like playing sport.

Socioeconomic status directly translates into poor educational performance.  It also usually means that kids living in less privileged circumstances are more likely to suffer from health issues, including obesity. 

Simply put, shoes are a basic human necessity because they promote equality and they afford more opportunities.  

I established Gotta Have Sole in 2010 for my bar mitzvah because I had already seen how children in a Rhode Island homeless shelter didn’t have shoes, or had shoes that were used and falling apart. Some had to share footwear with a family member and missed school because it wasn’t their turn to wear the shoes that day, and others had sores on their feet from wearing shoes that didn’t fit them properly. 

This was the catalyst to three main projects:

1. GHS provides children living in shelters across the United States with brand-new footwear to call their own. Since 2010 GHS has donated new footwear to over 20,000 children in homeless shelters in 35 states throughout the United States.

2. SOLEdiers was established to assist our disabled and needy veterans and their families. This special program provides our veterans with gift cards to footwear stores so they can select the shoes they need, and footwear from our inventory for their children. The purpose is to honor our veterans who fought so hard for our freedom, and to equip them with the resouces they need to go on job interviews and participate in daily activities. Since 2013 we have donated gift cards to 600 veterans in 3 states. 

3. SERVING LOVE began in an effort to promote an active lifestyle while providing disadvantaged children with the proper sporting footwear so they can participate in the sports of their choice. This enables children with the opportunity to stay in shape and to engage in activities with their peers which boosts self-esteem and confidence. We are currently working with organizations that provide free tennis lessons, and will be expanding to include other sports.

  • My mom brought me to a homeless shelter when I was about 5 years old, because she wanted me to see how other people were living and to appreciate what I had. I was amazed at the poverty I saw, and that night I went home, took all of the clothing, shoes and other items I no longer used, and gave them to the shelter. For one 3-year-old kid there, it was the first pair of shoes he had ever had, but they were much too big for him. When it was time to begin a bar mitzvah community service project, I wanted to do more to help homeless kids. I started Gotta Have Sole in 2010, which seeks donations so that we can give new pairs of shoes to the homeless. As of 2014, we’ve been able to give shoes to 18,500 kids in 35 states. It is so important to act and make a difference in the world, and we should all be doing something. I hope to provide as many kids in America with shoes as I can, and along the way, to inspire others to find their passion and act on it.



Feb. 23, 2016

The Gotta Have Sole scholarship program provides extraordinary teens and young adults in need with the funds to take a step forward. We’re awarding up to five $1,000 scholarships* to incoming first year students, so they can pursue higher education.  Visit us here to learn more:

PB Teen named ME an Extraordinary Teen!!!!

June 1, 2015


March 12, 2015

March 12, 2015: Guess who made it on the Today Show in their segment "Everyone Has A Story!" 

you can watch it here!

This teen's "Gotta Have Sole"

Jan. 13, 2015

January 13, 2015: After 5 years of hard work, we've distributed 23,000 new pairs of shoes across 35 states, thanks to generous donations and corporate contributions from companies like Zappos! 

Read the Rhode Island Monthly news article about this story!

In The News

Awards & Recognition

February 2014 Newtown Kindness Award:

Nicholas Lowinger

In 2010, Nicholas started the Gotta Have Sole Foundation so that he could give new shoes to children living in homeless shelters across the country. , Nicholas started the Gotta Have Sole Foundation as a community services project. He didn’t want it to be one donation and have it stop there. Read more...


2014 Cranston teen with shoe charity wins Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award

2013 Peace First Prize,

2013 Muhammed Ali Humanitarian Award

2013 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award 

2013 Myra Kraft Community MVP Award

 2013 Make A Difference Day National Honoree 

2013 Global Teen Leader We Are Family Foundation

2013 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

2013 Kohl’s Cares Regional & National Winner 

2013 Youth Service Challenge Award 

2012 Build-A-Bear Huggable Hero

2012 Farm Rich Kids Who Give

2012 Prudential Spirit of Community 

2012 Presidential Volunteer Service Gold Level

 2011 Jefferson Award for Public Service

 2011 Hasbro Community Action Hero Award

2011 Rainbow Award- Street Sights Magazine

2011 Youth Leader Award - RI Jefferson Award

CNN Heroes

Homeless kids shouldn't have to worry about how they'll be accepted or how they'll fit in.  They shouldn't have to worry about not being able to play sports or go to school because they don't have a pair of shoes.

Street Stories: Gotta Have Sole

WPRI Channel 12


KooDooZ has worked with a number of youth social entrepreneurs to “mash-up” new approaches to philanthropy, imaging and supporting new ways to affect change.  This video was purposed to showcase the project on their site and engage peer to peer collaboration.

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