How philly’s discarded shoes are saving lives overseas – new jersey herald – u gas hampton

He pulls over his minivan for a closer look. Here are two pairs of sneakers, almost new-looking. There’s a suitcase, whose telescoping handle works perfectly and wheels glide easily into a spin. Sheathed in black plastic, there’s a three-foot-tall Superman doll; Hagins will later find similar ones listed for between $25 and $60 on eBay.

It all goes in the van, joining a ramshackle abundance of trash bags bulging with assorted shoes, bicycle parts, pie pans, radios, record players and antiques of questionable provenance. (Fortunately, a half-dozen pine-tree air fresheners also sway from the rear-view mirror.)

Scrapping is a time-honored, if marginal, Philadelphia tradition. But Hagins, 51 — a Grays Ferry resident, one-time state House candidate (he did not survive a petition challenge), podcaster, and tireless networker with a self-styled, superhero-like moniker, Philly Green Man — is on a mission to elevate the trade, which he sees as both art and science. Pretty much anything you’ve tossed out on trash day, he says, has some value waiting to be unlocked.

But other things have worth, too. The broken lamp you threw away (if it was indeed broken) is worth 50 cents a pound. The cracked flat screen TV has a motherboard, worth $1 a pound. A DVD player is even better: The hard drive could fetch $15 or $20.

When President Trump’s "s-hole countries" remark made headlines this year, Hagins was particularly agitated. For the past decade, he has been helping immigrants who’ve settled in Philadelphia send shoes to their families in these long-impoverished, and lately defamed, regions.

Hagins says he finds 50 to 60 pairs of shoes per day. He was selling them at a flea market when a West African man offered to purchase his entire inventory for $1 a pair. If his family back home in Sierra Leone could sell the shoes, instead of just sending money home he could help them build a business of their own.

Jean Duret, 39, of Overbrook, sends about 100 pairs to his mother and brother in Haiti every two or three months. Duret, who works in human resources, has his own family to support here. But he also feels a responsibility to his relatives in Port-au-Prince. They can take Hagins’ trash-picked shoes to the market, and sell them for $3 to $5 a pair.

Mayaku, a former organizer who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo during a war in 1997, pays $2 to $4 for shoes that she distributes in villages around the country through her nonprofit, Congolese Association of Diabetics Bringing Hope. She aims to gather 10,000 pairs for her next trip back, in June.

The challenge in efforts like this is obtaining a container. Mayaku pays $7,800 per shipment. Hagins said he’s trying to figure out how to get copy machines and printers — items he finds in abundance — to a group of young men in the Gambia. If they could start a copy shop, they’ve told him, they might escape the fate of many of their friends, economic refugees who became caught up in the Libyan slave trade.

The trend of Buy Nothing groups on Facebook and charity drop boxes around the city have not made a dent in his inventory. He regularly fields phone calls from church groups that have more donations than they can manage, or individuals asking for clean-outs.

There’s clean trash and there’s dirty trash; knowing the difference has kept Hagins mercifully bedbug free. He’s also learned to look for for-sale signs and clusters of contractor bags that indicate someone has moved. He’ll frisk them like they’re covered in braille and shake them like they’re Christmas presents.

Hagins would like to grow his business, hire help or even create a recyclers union to make swapping finds simpler. He pays other scrappers 50 cents for each pair of shoes. Other scrappers have their own specialties. One man he knows pays $2 to $4 a bag for plastic bottles, then takes them to New York in bulk to turn profit off the refunds, a modest scam.

He stops to refuel the minivan and meets a young man who’s pumping gas for money. He’s dropped out of high school, he says, because he stained his uniform shirt and can’t afford a new one. Hagins tears up listening to the kid’s story, and offers to find him work. He gives the teen his number, but predicts he’ll never call. They rarely do.