Paxville native, Soles4Souls employee calls for shoe donations during October

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Tiffany Johnson is a Paxville native who now works for Soles4Souls. She sent this piece to The Manning Times to ask for donations from her home county for the month of October. She is also coordinating with friends in Sumter as well. More information will be posted Tuesday. Shoes. We all have them, and for most of us, we have more than we need. I never thought of shoes as being a critical need for others til seven years ago. That’s when I was introduced to the newly formed nonprofit Soles4Souls. I performed at a benefit concert for them and began to volunteer locally. Fast forward to today: I have been employed with the organization for six years and currently serve as their outreach and travel coordinator. I quickly understood the need for shoes while working with Soles4Souls. I saw it while fitting a man in a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City with shoes; his swollen feet were tender to the touch. This was likely due to improper fit and because he was on them all day long. They were his primary mode of transportation. He had also experienced frostbite on his toes, which could be attributed to the thinness of his shoes’ material after so much wear and tear. I remember fitting him with a new pair of beautiful athletic shoes, and he beamed from ear to ear. His toothless smile was one of the most beautiful sights I have encountered. I have also watched children in Haiti scream with delight over a new pair of shoes! Their little feet have widened already on the soles from walking barefoot, with cuts and scrapes covering their teeny toes. Their bare feet are not only a health hazard that welcomes infection and disease, but the rule in Haiti is simple: NO SHOES-NO SCHOOL. Shoes in Haiti mean to many children a whole new realm of possibilities, like reading, writing and arithmetic. As we evolve as a charity, we concentrate on wearing out poverty through the distribution of shoes. This is a lofty goal, as there are currently 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, and 400 million of them are children. But we are trying to work ourselves out of a job one day, and hoping that we can chip away at that number and see more men, women and children reach their potential as human beings and not suffer without basic necessities that most of us take for granted. We focus on our mission of wearing out poverty in two ways – free distribution of shoes and microenterprise. Free distribution is basically what it sounds like: We receive new shoes from footwear companies and distribute them. We have partnered with almost 1,000 organizations worldwide since 2006 to provide shoes to people through their networks. We work in 127 countries, providing items for disaster relief, mission programs and community outreach. We also have a travel program for volunteers through Soles4Souls. We lead group “voluntourism” trips to five countries, with more than 200 folks traveling with us annually to give shoes and love away. Microenterprise is where we provide shoes to create small business opportunities in developing countries. Currently, we have provided shoes to more than 25 countries where microenterprise is alive and well. We ask people just like you to host shoe drives and collect used shoes. These shoes, as well as some new products, are used to help men and women start a shoe business, which provides them with a job and income to care for their families. In Haiti, where one of our growing microenterprise initiatives are, we are able to stimulate a local economy where 78 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day and 54 percent lives on less than $1.25 per day. Many of the beneficiaries of microenterprise are women, who have little hope of finding a job at all. We watch them often grow their “shoe business,” becoming wholesalers and excellent negotiators. We see the sense of pride they have when they can SUSTAIN their families and themselves. They can feed their children each day, send them all to school (often they can only choose one because they cannot afford for all of them to go) and sometimes, even build or buy a small home, which is the ultimate luxury. And all of this is possible if we look in our closets. Our shoes tell a story about us. We all know the phrase “you can tell a lot about a man by looking at his shoes.” But what if we looked at the shoes in our closets and asked what their next chapter or “second life” could be. Maybe that pair of black wingtips will be worn by a young man in Honduras to attend school, purchased by his family in the local village, providing the seller with enough lempira to buy rice. The pair of brown boots could be sold in Moldova, keeping a young woman’s feet warm in the bitter cold while providing money to the seller to buy milk for her young child. A child’s outgrown sneakers could be worn by a young girl in Haiti as she jumps over puddles on the way to school, keeping her feet protected from stagnant water, her mother grateful to have access to shoes at a reasonable price from her local market, where the woman selling them can buy charcoal and chicken for the week. In a nutshell, that’s what your shoes can help us do. We initiated a “Hometown Challenge” at Soles4Souls, where all of the employees were challenged to get our hometowns to collect. At first I didn’t think it could be done, but I thought of my family and friends down there, especially my go-getter friend, Crystal Kirlis in Sumter. I realized that if her tenacious energy and enthusiasm could get behind this, then maybe it could be done! So, for the entire month of October, we are asking Sumter, Manning, Paxville and surrounding areas for one thing: YOUR SHOES! We will have several local drop-off locations from Oct. 1-31, and our goal is a lofty one. We want to collect 30,000 pair of shoes, and I truly believe it can be done. I am a small-town Paxville girl and a graduate of Manning High School’s Class of 1994; I know the power of this community when it bands together for a purpose! And trust me, this is noble purpose.

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