“This is the second year Cleveland and Bradley County organizations have begun early to collect new footwear,” Whitaker said. “It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm our local residents have developed for this program over the last 11 years.”
He added, “By August, local residents first will begin to notice the familiar SHOES signs and banners that identify businesses or churches as a convenient drop location for new footwear. These shoes and socks collected are destined for orphans around the world and here in the United States. But, all this footwear must be new in order to clear through customs.”
Although the annual shoe drive doesn’t officially begin until Wednesday, area volunteers have already collected more than 600 pairs of new shoes with the Church at Grace Point and Trinity Riders motorcycle club being the biggest early contributors.
The annual Shoes For Orphan Souls drive is a program of Buckner Orphan Care International in Dallas and is sponsored in the region by WMBW-Moody Radio in Chattanooga, 88.9 FM. Last year, approximately 35,000 pairs of new shoes were collected in the Chattanooga and surrounding area. Bradley County residents accounted for 3,500 pairs.
“Athletic shoes are the most desirable,” said Sonya Ownbey, a local nurse who actually followed the SHOES program to Mexico last year. “What a wonderful experience we had placing a new pair of shoes and socks on the feet of orphans and impoverished kids. We couldn’t do this without the thousands of pairs of shoes donated by caring people.”
Ownbey is typical of the volunteers who coordinate the SHOES program each year.
“Signs and drop boxes must be put out and taken back up,” according to Bobbie Reagan, a Bradley County volunteer involved in the SHOES program for the past several years. “The new footwear must be collected and re-boxed, then shipped to Dallas, then re-packaged and sent to over 70 countries around the world, all in time for Christmas. Even the transportation from Chattanooga to Dallas is donated by U.S. Express trucking company.”
Whitaker explained his passion for the initiative.
“This aspect of the SHOES program, being a volunteer-driven phenomenon, is what really drew me to work with it 11 years ago,” Whitaker said. “I liked the idea that there is a very, very small paid staff at the warehouse in Dallas. It’s like all the volunteers are connected by the new footwear around the world, and the kids. But, I don’t see the shoes and socks so much anymore. In my mind, I see the kids who will get them.”
Another local volunteer, Keith Gombash, has been to Africa twice to put shoes on the orphans there.
“Where Lorie and I have traveled, a pair of shoes is big,” Gombash said of his travels on behalf of the SHOES program. “It means an education. These kids cannot be accepted to school unless they have a pair of shoes. And shoes mean their feet don’t crack open with calluses, and that’s a real health issue. To a lot of kids, a couple of flattened plastic Coke bottles tied on with cord is a pair of shoes.”
Area drop locations include the Cleveland Daily Banner, Cleveland Family YMCA, Cherokee Pharmacy, James M. Goldman Chiropractic, Gray Epperson Mazda, Homestead Lawn & Tractor, Larry Hill Ford, Living Word Church, Southern Heritage Bank (all locations), Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union, Toyota of Cleveland, Whirlpool Corp., Westwood Baptist Church, White Wing Christian Bookstore, New Liberty Baptist Church, Smyrna Baptist Church in Ocoee, Captain D’s (all Cleveland locations) and The Shoe Show.