All point to the value of the handful of Bradley County volunteers, and to the legion of donors, who make possible the annual Shoes For Orphan Souls campaign in our community.
The local effort is part of a much bigger picture; that is, a global effort that has distributed more than 2.3 million pairs of new shoes, and thousands of new socks, to orphans in 74 countries since 1999.
Shoes For Orphan Souls is operated by Buckner International, a U.S.-based, Christian ministry dedicated to making life better for orphans, vulnerable children and families. Buckner, a respected name in worldwide humanitarianism, has operated since 1879.
Locally, the program is coordinated by a small group of volunteers who work closely with business and organizational partners who open their doors and hearts as drop locations for the new footwear and socks throughout the month of August.
One local volunteer is Keith Gombash who has traveled to many locations — from Kentucky to Kenya — to deliver the shoes and to personally work with the young orphans to assure each is receiving shoes in the correct size and fit.
“Orphanages in most countries aren’t anything like they are here in the states,” Gombash told our newspaper. “I’ve seen children dress themselves for the day from a common pile of tattered clothing, rags by our standards, and they don’t have any shoes. A lot of the time the new shoes we take them are the only thing they can really call their own.”
In corners of the world where poverty and hunger decimate the hope and will of an entire people, it is a legitimate question when an inquirer asks, “Why shoes?”
The answer lies in three components.
First and most important, it is disease. Without shoes children’s feet will develop thick calluses because they must walk everywhere they go. Cracks in the calluses become ports of entry to young bodies for a large variety of pathogens — bacteria, viruses and parasites. A pair of new athletic shoes gives an impoverished child the extra edge he or she may need just to survive.
Second is education. In many impoverished countries, “no shoes” means “no entry” to school. Education is the key factor in breaking the cycle of poverty. Children who learn to read can then teach their parents, and other members of their family, to read. Access to education can start with a simple pair of shoes.
Third, and just as important, are self-esteem and thankfulness. Children receiving footwear feel less alienated from the world.
Local volunteers such as Gombash, and others, who have traveled to other countries to deliver donated new shoes often return home speaking of the “... overwhelming joy the gift of shoes brings.”
Once the drive is completed on Aug. 31, volunteers will work to repackage the donations and to transport them to Chattanooga where they are loaded onto a U.S. Express tractor-trailer and delivered to Buckner International in Dallas. U.S. Express donates the truck and the driver’s time.
Local residents have many drop locations from which to choose: Baptist Association of Benton, Cherokee Pharmacy, Cleveland Daily Banner, First Baptist Church, Goldman Chiropractic, Homestead Lawn & Tractor, Journey Church, Living Word Church, Lucky’s Bargain Barn, Lucky’s Feed & Farm, Massengill Tire (all locations), New Liberty Baptist Church, North Cleveland Church of God, Ocoee Utility District, OK Tire, Salon Bella, Shiloh Baptist, Smyrna Baptist, Southern Heritage Bank (all locations), Spring Creek Apartments, SunTrust Bank, Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (both locations), Toyota of Cleveland, Washington Avenue Church, Westwood Baptist Church, Whirlpool Cleveland Division (factory) and Cleveland Family YMCA.
Donors also are invited to send along notes of love and encouragement that should be stuffed into the shoes, or attached to the footwear. The notes are every bit as precious to the children as the new shoes.
Shoes For Orphan Souls is a proven, and widely respected, outreach driven by those who understand such work the best — volunteers.
We encourage its support.
We thank all who are making it possible.