For junior Greg Woodburn, running is more than just putting in miles.
The confidence and friendships that evolve from running have propelled Woodburn to share his passion with children around the world through his organization, Give Running.
Give Running, founded by Woodburn in 2006, collects pairs of running shoes, old and new, and donates them to underprivileged youth.
Woodburn, a native of Ventura, Calif., majoring in history, has been running competitive track and cross-country since elementary school. A series of injuries, however, forced him to forego competing in his sophomore year of high school.
His absence from the sport made him realize how much running had given him self-esteem, confidence and new friends.
Living by the mantra, “while running is hard, not running is harder,” Woodburn decided to help others by providing them with the proper gear to share his passion for running. This decision lead to the birth of Give Running.
Woodburn started the project with the goal of collecting 100 pairs of running shoes by Christmas in 2006. He placed collection boxes at local schools, gyms and sport stores, and personally gathered, washed and sent more than 500 pairs of running shoes to children in Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.
The emotionally charged feedback he received from the children was overwhelming, he said. For some kids, it was the first pair of shoes that they had ever owned.
Now, his holiday project is a full-fledged operation with five chapters throughout the United States, including one at USC, that have collectively acquired, cleaned and distributed 7,254 pairs of shoes to children spanning from Los Angeles to Mali.
Woodburn has received awards for his dedication to public service, including a Liberty Mutual Scholarship that honors students who initiate a service or volunteer program that directly impacts or actively engages their campus community.
The USC chapter also has its own donation box located in the lobby of the Lyon Center and is working to collect used running and athletic shoes from all sports teams on the days they receive new shoes.
The main obstacle that the organization faces shipping costs. The nonprofit operates on a minimal budget; therefore, it must ask individuals to pay for their own shipping costs when sending shoes. Although the organization’s members attempt to help fundraise in any way that it can, it still presents a difficult problem.
“I feel that this has helped us maintain a very high quality of shoes we donate,” Woodburn said. “People will make sure they are in good condition before mailing them. Recycling those in poor shape would just add weight to the shipment.”
By 2020, Give Running hopes to collect, clean and donate more than 500,000 pairs of shoes. Woodburn said that he would also like to work with a corporate sponsor to ensure that about 25 percent of that goal can be met with new shoes. Other endeavors include establishing donation sites in all 50 states and other countries as well as building the first all-weather surface track in at least one city.
Despite having witnessed Give Running grow into something exponentially bigger than himself, Woodburn still has a familiar feeling whenever he steps up to a sink to scrub down another pair of shoes.
“I think about the young boy or girl who is going to receive that pair of shoes … I also think about the person who has worn the pair of shoes previously and how, while the giver and receiver of this pair of shoes may never meet face-to-face, through this pair of shoes they meet, in a sense, foot-to-foot,” Woodburn said.
The USC chapter of Give Running will be holding its first open meeting Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. in the Track and Field office.