Meet Rikki Mendias, the singular founder of Hav A Sole, a Los Angeles-based organization that gives shoes to people in need.
It’s another Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles and while many are at the beach enjoying the Southern California weather, Rikki Mendias, 32, is scouring the streets looking for people who might benefit from a new or gently worn pair of sneakers. The self-professed “sneaker head,” is the founder of a non-profit agency by the name of Hav A Sole. He says when he started the organization in July of 2014, he knew he’d found his purpose, but had no idea it would take off like it did.
“The support we’ve gotten has been amazing,” he says. “So many people have helped us along the way.”
As I sit shotgun in his car, his head turns when he sees something across the way. He tells me to hold on, spins the steering wheel and maneuvers a sharp U-turn. We drive into a parking lot and Rikki jumps out of the car. I follow behind as he walks toward the entrance of the bank. In the alcove, off to the side, an African-American man is laying, eyes closed, in a makeshift bed. His feet are dirty; the heels have deep cracks along the edges. A pair of flip-flops sits by his side.
“Hey man,” Rikki says, softly. “You awake?”
The man bolts straight up, his eyes dart from Rikki, to me, then back to Rikki.
“Yeah?” he says suspiciously.
“Do you need some shoes?” Rikki says. “I have a bunch in the back of my car.”
The man pauses briefly but there’s something in Rikki’s tone that emanates warmth. It proves to be disarming.
“OK,” he says, getting up.
As he follows along with us, Rikki talks to him. We find out his name is David and he’s originally from Watts. When I ask if we woke him up, he giggles a little and says he wasn’t really asleep. He just rests there because the bank is closed and he knows customers won’t disturb him given it’s a Sunday and all. He seems extremely childlike and shy. He looks down and it’s hard for him to maintain eye contact. I begin to wonder if David even talks to people in his life.
When Rikki opens the back of his black Ford Explorer, a couple pairs of shoes fall out, tumbling to the ground. With both seats down in the back, the inside of the car is filled with tennis shoes, either from his personal collection or donations that have been sent to Hav A Sole from all over the country.
“What size are you?” Rikki asks.
David says he’s a size 11 and Rikki starts rummaging through one of the bags. A few moments later he holds up two pairs and asks, “Which ones would you like?”
David eyes the fancy pair of red and white Air Jordons for a moment then points timidly at the black leather Nikes with a gray swoosh along the side.
“Why don’t you try them on?” Rikki asks, handing him a pair of new socks as well.
David smiles, takes the shoes and sits on a nearby curb.
“Do you mind if I take a picture of you putting them on?” Rikki asks.
David says OK and Rikki, a photographer, squats down low, snapping a few shots from different angles. Afterward, David seems quite happy. Even I’m feeling a little like Santa Clause as we shake hands and say good-bye. Back in the car, Rikki posts the pictures on Instagram, tagging the person who donated David’s Nikes.
“People love to see their shoes getting a second life,” he says. “And that makes others want to get involved as well.”
If you ask Rikki why he does this, he’ll tell you a story about when he was 10 years old and living in a women and children’s shelter with his single mom. With only welfare to support them, his mother couldn’t buy him the things he needed to fit in with the other kids at school—and that included shoes. One day Becky, a past resident, came to visit. She overheard how Rikki’s shoes had massive holes in the soles. Wanting to give back to the place that helped her so much, Becky insisted on taking him to the store where she bought him two pairs. It was an act of kindness he never forgot, but it would be years before he realized the profound effect of that single act of kindness.
Since last July, Rikki has given away over 5,000 pairs, mostly to disadvantaged people in Los Angeles. However, this spring, he took Hav A Soul on a road trip with his friends, Dash Penland and Matias Letelier. They’ve traveled to more than 12 major cities across the United States, linking up with Instagram followers to both collect and deliver shoes along the way.
One of the highlights of their adventure happened in Miami, near the end of the trip. Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, TV reality star and former NFL player, invited the boys to his home. When they arrived, Johnson graciously took them through his closets to do some spring cleaning. By the time they finished, Hav A Sole had over two hundred pairs of high-end shoes.
Since the plan was to fly back to Los Angeles, they needed to find needy feet for all those shoes in Florida. Covenant House, a national organization that provides shelter and services for homeless youth and young adults was happy to help. Rikki and his buddies were able to give shoes to some very grateful kids in Fort Lauderdale.
When I ask Rikki what he loves most about Hav A Sole, he pauses for a moment. Then he says with such sincerity I can’t help but believe him.
“I learned that I can make a difference in the world and what I get from helping others is a far better feeling than any single pair of shoes ever gave me.”
Copyright © 2015 Wendy Adamson/Singular Communications, LLC