Last August, the Cleveland area gathered more than 3,500 pairs of new shoes for orphans and vulnerable youngsters in the United States and around the world. The Bradley County effort to collect more shoes begins Monday and will continue throughout the month.
The Bradley County drive is part of a regional campaign sponsored by WMBW radio in Chattanooga.
Noreen Lomas, Bonnie Finnell and Mike Finnell were three of a group of 30 Chattanooga regional representatives to deliver shoes in the fall to orphans and “vulnerable” children through Buckner International’s Shoes for Orphaned Souls.
“We actually washed the children’s feet and put socks and shoes on them,” Lomas, who also volunteers at Wesley Memorial United Methodist and The Caring Place, said.
The volunteers were told to bring supplies, including about 500 wipes.
The trio noted they would wipe the youngsters’ dirty feet and then put the socks and shoes on them.
“We did not just hand them the shoes, but we had to make sure they got the right size,” Bonnie Finnell, a retired office manager, explained.
“Most of them had shoes,” Lomas said.
“But a lot of the shoes we did see were falling off feet, wrong sizes, too small and the kids had been wearing them too long. There were holes in the toes and the soles that were tapped up,” Mike Finnell said.
One of the places they gave out shoes was in a dump.
“The kids actually live in the dump,” Lomas said. “Buckner has a feeding center there.”
“You could tell there was a great need. Buckner feeds them one meal a day. We had two groups,” she said.
Mike Finnell, a retired electrician, noted their teams distributed between 1,500 to 2,000 pairs of shoes in 5 1/2 days.
They would do about half in the morning, then Buckner’s Mexican organization would feed the kids. The next group would come along to be fed and get their new shoes.
“I wasn’t sure why the Lord wanted me to go,” Lomas said. However, He woke her up early one Saturday morning and “told me I needed to go.
“The hardest part was the language barrier. I don’t speak Spanish. We had interpreters, but love is the same in any language — hug them, play and hold their hands.”
Mike Finnell agreed. “They are very loving people and very appreciative — both the kids and moms. Many of the moms came up to thank us.”
The distribution of shoes was not the only thing the team members were doing in Mexico.
“Shoes are the door to open to tell these kids about Jesus,” Lomas said.
The “vacation Bible school” type program offered a Bible study, memory verse, crafts and games, Mike Finnell explained.
The children learned the verses very quickly, Lomas said. “It was surprising how quickly they learned them.”
She said she did crafts and quickly learned to say “muy bonito” or very pretty about their projects. “They would just beam.”
Not only were the children learning about Jesus, but the parents and others were also.
Mike Finnell said like Lomas, they had “felt the tug at our hearts — God was speaking to us” to go on this mission trip.
Mike Finnell said one of the most touching distribution sites was at a home for mentally challenged. He said it was the first time the government had allowed outsiders to come in to the home.
The residents “just wanted to dance” and really enjoyed the new shoes. Mike Finnell noted the children were “so excited about getting a pair of shoes. You would have thought they were given a new Xbox.”
The trio agreed the culture is entirely different than in the United States.
“I think they are happier than we are,” despite the poverty, Mike Finnell said.
The shoes are an important part of helping the children escape from poverty. Without shoes, they can not go to school and get the education to help them to a better life.
Since its inception in 1999, “Shoes” has given out more than 2 million pairs of new shoes and socks in 70 countries, according to Bradley County coordinator Dave Whitaker.
“This is the 11th year local residents will have the opportunity to donate all kinds of new footwear to be sent to orphans around the world in time for Christmas,” Whitaker said.
USExpress transfers all the footwear collected in this area to Buckner’s central warehouse in Dallas free of charge, Whitaker said.
The Chattanooga region donated more than 23,000 pairs in 2010.
Bradley County “Shoes” team members Keith Gombash, Bobbie Reagan and Marty Floyd are getting the local effort off to a fast start. They have already collected 1,100 pairs of new shoes for the program this year.
“Our goal this year is 10,000 pairs,” said Gombash.
Donated footwear must be new in order to clear customs.
Whitaker said, they really would like to have more athletic shoes and shoes in larger sizes for the kids.
Signs will be set up the first of the week at several locations serving as drop sites in Bradley County, according to Whitaker.
Drop sites will be open throughout the month of August to collect shoes.
The locations are Cleveland Daily Banner, Community Hall Church, Gardner’s Market, His Witness Scents, Living Word Church, North Cleveland Church of God, SonRise Gymnastics, Southern Heritage Bank, T&L Baking Co., Church at Grace Point, Toyota of Cleveland, Homestead Lawn and Tractor, Whirlpool/Maytag, Renaissance Salon and Spa, YMCA of Cleveland, Westwood Baptist Church and Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.