Jaden Gilbert’s love for shoes started when, as a fourth-grader on his basketball team, he would compare shoes with his teammates.
Now 13 and a seventh-grader at Columbus Academy, the New Albany resident about a year ago parlayed his interest into starting a small business that buys and sells rare shoes, either online or to people he knows.
When the time came to select a community project for his bar mitzvah, Jaden said, he wanted to choose something related to shoes.
“I thought it could be pretty fun,” he said.
To that end, Jaden on Aug. 18 launched a shoe drive, and thus far, he estimates he has collected 300 to 400 shoes to donate to Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based nonprofit organization.
Anyone who wants to participate in the shoe drive may drop off gently worn shoes at Columbus Academy, 4300 Cherry Bottom Road in Gahanna, and Temple Beth Shalom, 5089 Johnstown Road in New Albany, through the end of October.
Jaden said the shoe drive is being done in memory of his preschool friend Louie Becker, who died from a brain tumor in 2016, when he was 11.
“He was always just really fun to be around,” Jaden said.
Jaden said he chose Soles4Souls with help from his father, Aaron Gilbert.
Soles4Souls creates jobs and provides relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing by working with nonprofit partners in the U.S. and internationally to distribute the donated materials, said Brian Granfors, vice president of marketing and communications for the organization.
Gently worn shoes are given to partner organizations in such countries as Haiti and the Honduras, Granfors said. Those organizations sell the shoes to residents for about $1 per pair, so they in turn can sell shoes to their communities, Granfors said. The process creates small, sustainable businesses in places where people often have to farm or find other ways to make money, he said.
With the sale of a pair of shoes about $10, people can provide about five meals for their families, Granfors said.
Orchestrating a shoe drive for his bar mitzvah project was the perfect fit for his son, Gilbert said.
Jaden’s foray into shoe-selling is only one example of his entrepreneurial spirit, he said.
When Jaden was about 8 or 9, he created a website to sell T-shirts, Gilbert said -- despite the fact there was no way for him to actually make the shirts.
“He had a great idea, and he loved it,” he said.
Though he wasn’t able to sell T-shirts, Jaden has had better success with shoes.
In February, Gilbert said, he accompanied his son and one of his friends to a sneaker convention in February. Jaden showed up with five pairs of shoes he had purchased and negotiated their sale prices to make a profit.
“He knows the industry very well,” Gilbert said.
Jaden said when he works out deals for eight pairs of shoes he has at his house, he will have sold 24 through his nascent business.
Even discounting Jaden’s shoe business, the Gilbert family has had several shoes to donate to the Soles4Souls, mostly from sports Jaden and his sister, Sasha, 11, played over the years, Gilbert said.
The siblings also have a younger brother, Hudson, 3.
Jaden’s mother, Tracy Gilbert, said the community response from the shoe drive has been overwhelming.
At Jaden’s bar mitzvah celebration in August, friends and family showed up with bags of shoes to donate, she said.
Aaron Gilbert said his son’s project has helped him, to a certain extent, make an impact on parts of the world he never has visited.
“Even at 13 years old, there’s stuff that he could do that could change people’s lives,” he said.