“The response to our call for new footwear for orphans was overwhelming this year,” said Dave Whitaker, co-coordinator for the Shoes For Orphan Souls program in Cleveland and Bradley County.
“We shipped over three times more new shoes than we’ve done in our best year previously.
“The turnout of volunteers last Thursday was also incredible,” he continued. “A special word of thanks is due to all the volunteers who worked to collect the shoes from 25 area drop locations and then gather to rebox them for shipment to Buckner International in Dallas.”
Last year the Shoes program gathered 1,020 pairs of new footwear from the Cleveland area. This year the count is 3,298 new shoes and boots, with the addition of 3,287 new pairs of socks.
Whitaker analyzed what could have made the difference this year. “We doubled the number of signs we placed in front of businesses. There were almost double the number of drop locations, and we had heightened participation by some key churches, and businesses like the Cleveland Daily Banner.”
This year was the first for Cleveland resident, Keith Gombash, to be involved.
“I’ve been overseas and visited an orphanage. I’ve seen what little they really have and this means so much to me now,” Gombash said.
Gombash worked in early August to secure a local shoe store as a collection point.
“One man came in and wrote a check for $570 to the store and said, ‘Pick out as many children’s shoes as you can and put them in the drop box,’” Gombash explained.
He went on to tell about a 6-year-old girl who was shopping in the same store with her father.
“She asked her father what the drop box was about and when he explained that an orphan is a child without a mom or dad, she asked if they could buy some shoes to go in the box.”
“When the shoes are dropped into one of our collection boxes, we pick them up and keep them here in Cleveland until the end of August,” said Bobbie Reagan, a co-coordinator for the last five years.
“We have to unpackage all the shoes and boots because we can’t afford to ship all that extra weight to Dallas and then out to orphanages here in the States and in about 70 countries around the world. That’s why we had the boxing party at Westwood Baptist last Thursday.”
“About a dozen local volunteers loaded up a trailer and van on Friday and delivered 83 large cases containing all the reboxed footwear to a semi-trailer donated by USExpress and waiting at the WMBW radio studio in Chattanooga,” Reagan beamed.
Reagan’s enthusiasm for the Shoes program is high. She hopes next year to be one of the volunteers who actually travels overseas with the shoes to place them, in person, on the feet of orphans, give them a hug and say through a translator, “I love you and the person who sent you these shoes and socks loves you, too.”
The Shoes For Orphan Souls team extends a huge “thank you” to everyone who donated footwear this year. It was an incredibly generous response, Whitaker sid.