Three years ago Andre McDonnell, a manager at the high-end SoHo store, Atrium, was playing basketball with friends in a downtown Manhattan park. McDonnell found a homeless man nearby without shoes, and in an act of extreme kindness, McDonnell provided the stranger with his fresh dunks, left feeling the gravel under his bare feet. Since then, McDonnell has become the founder of It’s From the Sole, a non-profit organization that has donated nearly 5,000 sneakers to the homeless in NYC—oftentimes collectable Adidas and Nike sneakers, and even a couple pair of size 14 dunks from Carmelo Anthony himself.
McDonnell works alone, paying out-of-pocket to refurbish shoes that have been donated—unwanted and out-of-date. And spending nearly 15 hours per week (on top of his day job), the charitable “angel” does not plan to stop. He’s even expanded his givings to “sweater saturday” and “pillow day,” hoping to eventually travel state-to-state, country-to-country, providing to the people who need, not want.
McDonnell spoke with Yahoo Style about his role as being the nicest man in fashion.
Still from Andre McDonnell’s video
Yahoo Style: So who gets the pillows?
Andre McDonnell: Only the homeless lying on the floor. I have also started “sweater Saturday” when people can go into their closet and grab a sweater you don’t want and donate it to people on the street. “Sweater Saturday” is only during cold weeks.
YS: How do you refurbish sneakers?
AM: People donate gently worn sneakers, and if they’re dirty, I wash them, leave them in my living room to dry, and then go around NYC and give them away.
YS: Do you approach the homeless casually or do you have a kind-of scripted approach?
AM: I kind of have a scripted method. If you have a long conversation with the homeless, sometimes they will push you away. I ask, “What kind of sneaker do you wear? What size?” If you cut straight to the point, then they will likely take them. I don’t want to show them every sneaker in my bag because sometimes they will reject what I give them.
YS: That’s interesting. You’re really creating a divide between wanting and needing, yet you’ve been rejected?
AM: Just because you want to help doesn’t mean that people want your help. Because of their situation, they want money, but I’m not here to offer that. I’m here to offer a fresh new pair of sneakers. Sometimes you can see guys with no shoes on, and I of course offer them, but no—it’s life.
YS: How about people who approach you out of wanting?
AM: Always some man with an iPhone 6 or Rolex comes up to me, asking for a pair. I have to explain, “forgive me sir, these are for the less fortunate. These are for people who NEED and not WANT.” They understand, usually.
YS: So you’re planning to expand your locations?
AM: I’ve already provided the homeless in Philadelphia with goods. I took 5,000 pairs of sneakers and gave away 2,000. I also gave away 100 new Champion hoodies and 400 pairs of new socks.
YS: Do you have any special giving plans for the holidays?
AM: Everyday we should help somebody. During Christmas and Thanksgiving, people are more giving, but what happens with the other 10 months of the year?
YS: How can people help?
AM: I am always looking for help. I need help now. I’ve been doing this for three years by myself, and I can’t say that too many people have really helped me, besides donations.
To donate, visit It’s From the Sole