A South Philadelphia resident hits the streets on trash day and finds decent sneakers to send to Africa.
ABOVE PHOTO: Ogbonna Hagins with his ‘treasure trove’ of sneakers to be sent to Africa through the immigrants he helps. (Photo by Napoleon Kingcade)
By Napoleon F. Kingcade
Inside a three-block long storage building that sits on the 2400 block of Chancellor Street in South Philadelphia, Ogbonna Hagins has rented three large storage units where he keeps over 500 pairs of used sneakers.
For the last six years, Hagins has gone through people’s trash and found these sneakers still in good condition. He helps immigrants send sneakers to their families in Africa by doing this.
Hagins doesn’t search for the sneakers in wealthy neighborhoods; he rides around in his minivan in North Philly and Kensington to find the hidden bags of treasure sitting on the curb. Most of the sneakers he finds are still worth top dollar on the product’s website.
In addition to sneakers, Hagins finds appliances like sewing machines and microwave ovens that have hardly been used and are still in good shape.
Residents sometimes yell at him because of the work he does. Once, when a man pulled a gun on him, the police were called to stop the disturbance.
Despite the challenges, Hagins works with immigrants from Sierra Leone, Haiti, and Gambia, allowing them to pick out items from his found items as they pack sneakers to ship back home.
He charges a reasonable fee. Once the immigrants ship the barrels, they take the items and sell them at triple the price.
“I don’t do this to make money. I help those families in Africa who need better sneakers and clothes to wear for their families,” Hagins said. “Most of the stuff that’s sent to Africa can be found on eBay or on one of those expensive websites. You would be surprised what people will throw in the trash. I have found all kinds of those. Fur coats, leather jackets and even expensive jewelry.”
Hagins said it all began when he was finding 50 to 60 pairs of shoes and sneakers every trash day. He would clean them up and sell them at flea markets. That’s where 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 some people. He figured that it could be a perfect employment opportunity for Africans to make some money. As it turned out, a lot of Africans had the same idea.
As he travels the city, Hagins feels like a self-sufficient man. Before he started his collection work, he was a cab driver and schoolteacher. Today, he calls himself “The Philly Green Man” — it’s a name that he takes pride in.
A few years ago, Hagins was trying to make the ballot as a state House candidate, but he didn’t have enough signatures on his petition.
Presently, Hagins plans to run for another political office and hopes to pick up more support from people in Philadelphia. He said there are a lot of things he wants to change in the city. For instance, he wants to help stop shootings and murders.
He believes that crime has gotten out of control. He also wants to put together a task force and clean up the city. He says Philadelphia is not a clean city — there’s trash everywhere. He feels people must take more pride in their neighborhoods.
“I want to help change this city and make it a better place to live,” Hagins said. “We must fight harder to stop the crime. It can’t get [any] worse than what this city is now.”
To donate sneakers or support Hagins’ work, call: (267) 257-9119.