A South Philadelphia resident takes to the streets on Trash Day and finds some decent sneakers to send to Africa.

ABOVE PHOTO: Ogbonna Hagins with his ‘treasure’ of sneakers to be sent to Africa via the immigrants he helps. (Photo by Napoleon Kingcade)

By Napoleon F. Kingcade

Inside a three-block-long warehouse that sits on the 2400 block of Chancellor Street in South Philadelphia, Ogbonna Hagins has rented three large storage units where he keeps more than 500 pairs of used sneakers.

For the past six years, Hagins has been digging through people’s trash cans and found these sneakers still in good shape. He helps immigrants send sneakers to their families in Africa by doing this.

Hagins isn’t looking for sneakers in wealthy neighborhoods; he drives around in his van in North Philly and Kensington to find the hidden bags of treasure sitting on the sidewalk. Most of the sneakers he finds are still worth full price on the product’s website.

In addition to sneakers, Hagins finds appliances like sewing machines and microwave ovens that have barely been used and are still in good condition.

Residents sometimes yell at him because of the work he does. Once, when a man pointed a gun at him, the police were called to stop the unrest.

Despite the challenges, Hagins works with immigrants from Sierra Leone, Haiti and The Gambia, letting them choose items from his found items as they pack sneakers to ship home.

It charges reasonable fees. After the immigrants ship the barrels, they take the items and sell them for triple the price.

“I’m not doing this to make money. I help families in Africa who need better sneakers and better clothes for their family to wear,” Hagins said. “Most of the things that are sent to Africa can be found on eBay or one of those expensive websites. You’d be surprised what people will throw away. I found all kinds. Fur coats, leather jackets and even expensive jewelry.

Hagins said it all started when he found 50 to 60 pairs of shoes and trainers every day from the trash. He cleaned them and sold them at flea markets. It was there that he met a large group of Africans who wanted to do business with him.

Hagins said he would like to expand his business and hire people. He thought this might be a perfect job opportunity for Africans to earn money. It turned out that many Africans had the same idea.

As he roams the city, Hagins feels like an empowered man. Before starting his collection work, he was a taxi driver and a teacher. Today, he calls himself “The Philly Green Man” – it’s a name he’s proud of.

A few years ago, Hagins was trying to run for office as a candidate for State House, but he didn’t have enough signatures on his petition.

Currently, Hagins is considering running for another political office and hopes to gain more support from Philadelphians. He said there were a lot of things he wanted to change in the city. For example, he wants to help stop shootings and murders.

He believes the crime has gotten out of hand. He also wants to put together a task force and clean up the town. He says Philadelphia isn’t a clean city – there’s trash everywhere. He thinks people should be more proud of their neighborhood.

“I want to help change this city and make it a better place to live,” Hagins said. “We have to fight harder to stop the crime. He can’t get [any] worse than this town is now.

To donate sneakers or support Hagins’ work, call: (267) 257-9119.