Shoes for Orphan Souls collection boxes and signage will be retrieved from an array of partnering Cleveland and Bradley County locations early next week, but donors will still have the chance to contribute footwear through Thursday.
Dave Whitaker, longtime volunteer coordinator of the program — which is now in its 15th year in this community — said the donations of new shoes and socks can still be made at Westwood Baptist Church until 5 p.m. Thursday.
One hour later, a small army of volunteers will convene at the church for the traditional “boxing party” in which donations will be carefully sorted and packaged in preparation for shipment to Dallas. From Texas, the shoes and socks will be distributed to 76 countries, including the United States.
Whitaker, who praised this year’s work of fellow Shoes for Orphan Souls coordinators Bobbie Reagan and Keith Gombash who took the lead during much of his unexpected absence, said some of the footwear items will make their way to impoverished families in East Tennessee.
“Full credit for the success of this year’s Shoes for Orphan Souls program and collections goes to Bobbie and Keith,” Whittaker stressed. “They have been tireless workers this month.”
Both are veteran volunteer coordinators with the program. Whittaker said Reagan has worked with Shoes for Orphan Souls for about a decade and Gombash for the last five years.
“What a difference Bobbie and Keith have made to this program,” Whittaker said. “Both continue to bring tremendous energy and enthusiasm. I’m so very proud of their work, and I’m so very thankful for their willingness to be a part of this year after year.”
Each year, the Buckner International initiative is conducted throughout the month of August. It focuses on working with key business, church, school and civic partners who are willing to host collection boxes in their locations.
The drive, which collects new shoes and socks as well as cash donations, normally concludes at the end of the month; however, in communities like Cleveland it is traditionally extended until the “boxing party.” Locally, although the collection boxes are being picked up Monday or Tuesday, area donors can still make dropoffs to Westwood Baptist Church, Whittaker explained.
“A simple pair of shoes is important to an impoverished child for two reasons,” explained Gombash, who has traveled to various Third World countries on mission trips. “Without shoes, the feet of a child become calloused. Calluses crack open and expose the child to all manner of diseases found on dirt roads and in sewage.”
He added, “Life expectancy without shoes is shortened. Also, in most developing countries shoes are a prerequisite for school attendance. Without shoes, no education.”
And without education, the cycle of poverty continues, Gombash said.
Reagan, whose energy for the initiative was described by Whittaker as being “... bubbly, inspirational and so very needed and appreciated,” pointed to the importance of business, civic and church partners in assuring the success of Shoes for Orphan Souls.
“Business and corporate involvement in Shoes for Orphan Souls has grown over the years,” Reagan said. “Several businesses in the Cleveland and Bradley County area have become enthusiastic about hosting the familiar white ‘Shoes’ drop boxes.”
One is her former employer Whirlpool Cleveland Division — formerly Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products — from which she retired several years ago.
“Last year was the first for Whirlpool employees to participate,” she said. “The local manufacturer set no goal, but collected 770 pairs of new shoes. This year, the company set a goal of 850 and reached that mark with 857 pairs donated by employees.”
Reagan, Gombash and Whittaker credited the leadership of Whirlpool plant leader Dicky Waters.
“Mr. Waters really took a deep interest in this program,” Whitaker said. “We are so thankful for his involvement, just as we are for the leadership of many area residents — not just business, civic, church and community leaders, but also many, many individual donors and volunteers.”
As this year’s Shoes for Orphan Souls campaign winds down, the program’s volunteer coordinators pointed to the growing number of sites that have hosted collection boxes this year.
They included Busy Bee, Cherokee Pharmacy/Jittery Joe’s Coffee, Cleveland Daily Banner, First Baptist Church of Cleveland, First Presbyterian Church, Goldman Chiropractic, Homestead Lawn & Tractor, Joy Christian Fellowship, Kingdom Ink, Lifeway Christian Store, Living Word Church, New Liberty Baptist Church, North Cleveland Church of God, OK Tire, Parkway Baptist Church, Shoe Show, South Cleveland Church of God, Southern Heritage Bank (all locations), Spring Creek Apartments, Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (south), Toyota of Cleveland, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Westwood Baptist Church, White Wing Christian Bookstore and the Cleveland Family YMCA.
Others have been involved as well. One is Hopewell Storage whose owner, Joe Pesterfield, has been pivotal in providing storage units for use by the local Shoes for Orphan Souls program, Whitaker said.
Another is Abcor Packaging in Cleveland which is providing the white collection boxes, Whitaker said. In the future, Abcor is expected to provide packing boxes, he added.
Plus, Whirlpool is taking yet another role, Whitaker pointed out. Not only has Bradley County’s largest employer served as a collection point for donations by its workforce, it is also providing trucks and staffing for the transfer of compiled donations from Hopewell Storage to Westwood Baptist Church for Thursday night’s boxing party, Whitaker explained.
“I’m really proud of the efforts, and the enthusiasm, that Whirlpool has shown, just as I am for our many project partners and sponsors, and all volunteers,” Whitaker said. “Keith and Bobbie have led this year’s drive, and their success has been made possible by the kindness of so many supporters.”
He also credited the ongoing support of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
“The Banner has become a valuable partner during the August drive,” Whitaker said. “Last year, our local newspaper helped to coordinate the donation of 3,000 new pairs of shoes.”
The single donation came from an anonymous donor which was provided through the Banner.
The trio of volunteer coordinators also pointed to the emotional impact of key individuals, one of whom is Christine Bear who once was given a birthday party; however, instead of accepting gifts for herself, Bear asked that party attendees bring new shoes and socks, and cash donations, for the Shoes for Orphan Souls program.
“She is such a precious young woman,” Whitaker said of Bear.
“[Christine] has a huge heart for this program,” Reagan noted. “What a sweet, sweet girl she is. She is strictly salt of the earth.”
Gombash agreed, and pointed to another value of volunteers like Bear.
“People like this, those who want to give their time for the benefit of others, are not only helping their causes physically and spiritually, they are also serving as role models for the community,” he said. “When people see what volunteers like Christine Bear are doing, so often they want to step up and do the same.”
Although collection boxes and Shoes for Orphan Souls dropoff signs are being removed from business lobbies and front lawns early next week, and Westwood Baptist Church will serve as the lone site for accepting last-minute gifts through Thursday, cash donations can still be made.
Anyone wanting to make a cash donation to Shoes for Orphan Souls should contact Gombash at 774-8324, preferably after 3:30 p.m.
Last year, Cleveland and Bradley County residents and businesses donated 7,200 pairs of new shoes and 3,500 new pairs of socks.
“Footwear must be new in order to clear customs,” Gombash explained. “Additionally, since most orphans in other countries only fully own what they are wearing at the moment, we want them to have a NEW pair of shoes. Many donors place a personal note into the shoes they send.”
Whitaker said Thursday night’s “boxing party,” which begins at 6 p.m. at Westwood Baptist, takes about 90 minutes. Volunteers are still needed, he stressed.
“All the new footwear must be removed from its packaging as it would be too costly to ship it in their individual boxes,” Whitaker explained. “The turnout of volunteers in recent years has enabled the efficient re-boxing of the thousands of pairs of new shoes and socks. We could still use some volunteers for next Thursday.”
Any individuals or groups who want to provide volunteer support Thursday may contact Gombash to confirm their plans.
According to a Buckner International news release, Shoes for Orphan Souls is the international organization’s largest humanitarian aid project.
The program “... provides new shoes and socks to orphans and vulnerable children in the United States and throughout the world,” the press statement cites. “From conducting shoe drives to humanitarian aid trips, Shoes for Orphan Souls offers hands-on opportunities to individuals, groups and organizations wanting to transform lives. Since 1999, Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls has delivered more than 2.75 million pairs of new shoes to children in 76 countries.
“By working together [with our partners], our hope is that we can broaden our reach to serve more children in the United States and around the world with the tangible gift of new shoes, as well as the love of Christ,” stated Ashley Williamson, Shoes for Orphan Souls manager.
Based on a UNICEF “State of the World’s Children” report, there are 148 million orphans around the world.
“[In most cases] orphanages do not receive enough funding to support the children in their care,” the Buckner International news release cites. “One of the greatest and most immediate needs is a pair of shoes. Many of the children receive one pair of shoes to last the entire year, and some don’t have shoes at all.”
Although Shoes for Orphan Souls accepts shoes and socks of diverse sizes and styles, “... the greatest need is for leather or canvas athletic shoes, sizes Youth 1 to Adult 7,” according to the Buckner International press statement.
Once the collecting of donations is completed, and all the packaging has been finished, that’s when Shoes for Orphan Souls physically reaches out to those in need.
“In many cases, volunteers actually travel overseas to meet the children ... the orphans ... and they place the shoes on the children’s feet in person,” Whitaker said.
He added, “It’s a heartwarming, and an emotionally stirring, time in the lives of volunteers and the children.”