Spruce Creek high school freshman Matthew Monroe has been collecting shoes for Soles4Souls for a decade.
Not every teenager asks for shoes on his birthday, but for the last decade, that's exactly what 15-year-old Matthew Monroe has put on his wishlist.
The thing is, he doesn't keep the shoes. He never has. Since his sixth birthday, Matthew has conducted an annual shoe drive to help Soles4Souls, a Tennessee nonprofit organization that distributes shoes to people in need around the world. This year marks the 10th-annual shoe drive for the Ormond Beach resident and Spruce Creek High School freshman.
“I never really expected it to go as far as it has," Matthew said.
“There’s enough bad in the world. I think there needs to be some good to balance it out.”
Matthew Monroe, Spruce Creek High School freshman
His passion for giving back was ignited by a friend in Atlanta who collected toys for the Ronald McDonald House on his birthday. Matthew was 4 years old at the time, and for his fifth birthday that year, he decided he wanted to help a pet pantry. So instead of presents, he asked for cat and dog food donations.
Matthew learned about Soles4Souls in his Sunday school back in Atlanta. And so, for his sixth birthday, the shoe drive was born — an initiative he would later bring to Ormond Beach.
Matthew's mother, Cynthia Petrie Monroe, remembers asking him if he was sure he didn't want to collect pet food again for his sixth birthday.
“He said, ‘Mom I want to help people,’” Monroe recalled.
Over the years, Matthew has donated thousands of shoes. The drive has expanded beyond his birthday party to local businesses and schools. This year, there are nine locations in the county serving as designated drop-offs.
The highest collection Matthew has ever sent to Soles4Souls was 1,120 pairs of shoes in 2013 for his ninth birthday. This year, he's aiming for 1,200. His mother, who helps him sort and bag the shoes, is ready for the challenge as well.
“We have to make a big splash for 10 years," Monroe said.
Soles4Souls will take any kind of new or gently-worn shoes. Heels, sneakers, flip-flops, soccer cleats — Matthew will accept them all. One year, he even got a pair of ice skates.
When his collection surpassed 1,000 pairs of donated shoes, Soles4Souls sent Matthew a poster of a child holding a pair shoes. Seeing the shoes go to people in need was "incredible," Matthew said.
Knowing he's helping people in need is what drives him.
“There’s enough bad in the world," Matthew said. "I think there needs to be some good to balance it out.”
Monroe is thankful for the community's support of the drive over the years. In 2015, Ormond Lanes hosted Matthew's birthday drive when rain almost cancelled his annual party. Miss Priss in Ormond Beach donates a box of shoes every year, and this year, the first large collection of shoes came from the Seabreeze color guard.
"It is heartwarming and encouraging, with so much negativity in the world, to see how our community supports each other," said Monroe in a text message.
If you would like for shoes to be picked up, or would like to become a donation location, call Monroe at 678-525-3160.