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Tomorrow is Barefoot4Them for Soles4Souls.  We have been holding this annual event for several years now, and I really love it. We ask people to simply go barefoot, for the whole day, a few hours, whatever time they can spare without shoes, we will take it.  We ask them to go barefoot for the millions of children worldwide who lack a decent pair of shoes.  When you participate in Barefoot4Them, you receive a story of someone you are representing, someone we have helped with the gift of shoes.  Today as I left work, I thought about all of the stories we share.  I thought of Johanna in Honduras, and how her eyes just shined last August when she received her new shoes and a beautiful party dress.  When we walked down to visit her family, she had already put on her new dress. 

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I think about the Keansburg New Jersey Police Department, who waded through water and debris after Superstorm Sandy hit, losing their precinct and all their gear.  Only days after the storm, Lt. Joe Pezzano contacted us to ask for boots for these brave men and women.  With the help of Danner Boot Company, we delivered immediately.  These are some of the bravest, best people I have ever encountered!  They are still picking up the pieces in Keansburg and we are honored to continue the process of rebuilding their community and schools.

I think of Justin and Dorcas in Arusha, Tanzania…miles and miles from here.  Children who aren’t well, on a long road of recovery from surgeries and sickness. 

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I think of the happiness the gift of shoes brought them they day we visited the Plaster House.  I can hear Justin saying to me, “sandals, sandals”.  He wanted sandals, and that is exactly what he got when we visited him and the wonderful team there! 

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I think of Copper John, who literally changed my life in so many ways, helping me understand so much about homelessness, addiction and HOPE.  I know he would be so very happy that we are sharing his story with so many. 

Most importantly, I think of many faces without names all around the world who have stories of their own.  They have struggles, hopes and dreams just like we do. image

As my CEO put it, they just need a “shot”.  Sometimes, shoes are that SHOT.  Even if its just the implication behind the gift of the shoes, a shot in the dark that someone cares about them.

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So, will you go barefoot tomorrow with us and give a voice to the needs of others?  Will you give Feet to a worthy cause?  What is it really going to cost you?  It could make all the difference to someone else.

So, I have a big goal this month in my hometown area in South Carolina!  I have asked Sumter, Manning and Paxville to step up and collect shoes for Soles4Souls, 30,000 pair of them to be EXACT.  And I think, actually, I KNOW that they can do it.  I am rooting for them, and FOR the thousands of feet and LIVES they can impact by doing this…and HERE IS WHY….

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 until 7 years ago, 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 6 years and currently serve as their Outreach and Travel Coordinator. 

 

I quickly understood the need for shoes as I worked with Soles4Souls.  I saw it while fitting a man in a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City with shoes, his swollen feet 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 contributed to the thinness of his shoe’s 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 widened already on the sole from walking barefoot, cuts and scrapes covering their teeny toes.  Their bare feet are not only a health hazard welcoming 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 2 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 1000 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 over 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 over 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 product 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 the local economy where 78% of the population live on less than $2 a day and 54% of them live 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 family and themselves.  They can feed their children each day, send them all to school (often they can only choose one sibling 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 and 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, SC.  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 October 1-31, 2014 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 (class of 1994) and I know the power of this community when it bands together for a purpose!  And trust me, this is noble purpose.  

Hometown Challenge FAQS

What are the dates?

Collection Dates will run from October 1-31, 2014

What is your goal?

Goal: 30,000 pair of shoes

Where can we drop off our shoes?

There are several local collection points where you can drop your shoes off!

1. Manning Early Childhood Center

2759 Raccoon Rd

Manning, SC

2. Scott Will Toyota

2540 Broad St

Sumter, SC

3. Simpson’s Hardware

40 W. Wesmark Blvd.

Sumter, SC

4. Dayelynn Spa and Becky’s Boutique

1165 N Guignard Drive

Sumter, SC (across from Time Warner Cable)

5. Browns Furniture

31 W Wesmark

Sumter, SC

6. N Salon

721 B Bultman Drive

Sumter, SC 

7. Miss Libby’s School of Dance

155 W Wesmark Blvd.

Sumter, SC 29150                                

What types of shoes do you take?

We take all kinds of shoes!  High heels, sandals, boots and athletic shoes, any type of shoe…New and Used!

Is there anything special we should do to our shoes when we drop them off?

Please make sure your shoes are paired with their mate!  If they have laces, tie them together, or simply band them together with a rubber band.  It is very important that the shoes be together as a pair.

Can I get a tax receipt for my shoes?

Yes, the form is available by emailing us at sumterhometownchallenge@gmail.com

Can I just give a donation?

Yes, it will not count towards the Hometown Challenge, but donations are greatly needed and always welcomed.  For every dollar donated to us, we can move a pair of shoes to someone in need.  Your gifts are tax deductible.  https://soles4souls.org/donate

Tiffany Johnson - There2
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There.

I recorded this years ago, and tonight I was listening to the words in absolute awe of God and His great love.

God.You are There.

You were there when I was born.

You were there when I took my first steps, said my first word. 

You were there when I first learned about you, in Paxville Baptist Church at the Christmas program.

You were there when I started singing, scraped my knee on my bike, got my first kittycat. 

You were there during elementary and junior high when I felt so lost and out of place.

You were there when my Momma got so sick, and we didn’t know what was going to happen to her.

You were there when we started going to church and I began to learn all about you.

You were there in college when I realized how desperately I needed you, and ran to you.  I didn’t really have to run, because you were right there

You were there when I ran far from you, watching me.  Even when I wouldn’t and I couldn’t see you, you were there.

You were there when my heart was broken and beaten, picking me up.

You were there to give me grace, and second chances.

You were there in countries I had never been to show me that you are truly everywhere.

You are here tonight with me to remind me that you were always there, and you will be always.

Amen.

 When it comes to traveling for Soles4Souls, Haiti is my like my first love from high school.  It holds a dear place in my heart.  I was shaken to the core my first time there in July 2010, our August trip was my 7th time there.  People ask me if I see a difference from the earthquake until now.  In some ways, yes I do.  This month, I saw the skeleton of a highway intersection being built in a very congested intersection of Port Au Prince.  Now, it could take 10 years to complete the highway but that is a sign of progress.  Yet, the poverty is still rampant.  Children ran up to me as we stopped on the side of the road and said, “Please give me food I am hungry”.  They didn’t ask for a dollar, they asked for food.  When they ask for food, it is because they need it.  We gave them our extra bags of Doritos as more children ran down the hill to our van while we drove away.  We didn’t have any more food to give them.  I can confidently say that they aren’t walking back to a house stockpiled with food just to see what they could get.  They are lacking the means to sustain themselves.  You see we (I) just don’t understand this.  We probably never will.

We went to an area I had never been, a village called Thomazeau.  It is about an hour from Port Au Prince, towards the Dominican Republic border.  On the way we passed cactus trees and rocky soil, such a change from the beautiful, lush coastline where we were staying.  I am amazed how different the terrain is in this LITTLE COUNTRY.  We worked for two days with LiveBeyond, an international organization based out of Nashville.  Dr. David Vanderpool and his wife Laurie moved there after the earthquake to devote their lives to providing care and love to the people of Haiti.  They were holding a community medical clinic and we set up to distribute shoes as the families left the clinic.  The community is very rural, so they would drive 30 or so people at a time in by truck to be treated by the medics.  We saw a little of everything: children receiving vaccines, teeth being pulled, malaria being treated and that’s just the cases we knew about!  They knew we had shoes for them, which was incredibly exciting for them!  For the little ones, that was definitely a better deal than getting vaccinated. 

 

I watched our little traveling band of shoe fitters just love on them, we had a steady stream each day for about 4 hours.  It was a great set-up, we had time to wash their feet, fit them and play with them instead of rushing them through, which happens sometimes.  Sarah, a kindergarten teacher from Virginia, helped fit a little Albino girl with shoes.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched how tender she was with this beautiful child.  The harsh sunlight made it hard for the child to look up, so she leaned on Sarah’s chest as Sarah held her while she and I splashed her feet, making her giggle. 

We started one morning out at a local orphanage there.  We had the chance to give all of the children a pair of shoes.  The children sang songs to us after the distribution.  The most beautiful little boy, Maurice, sat beside me and sang to me.  I have noticed in Africa and Haiti that when children sing, they SING with all of their heart.  No halfhearted attempts to sing, no way!  THEY BELT IT.  These kids did not disappoint.

Maurice looked at me with his wide set brown eyes and sang in Creole a beautiful song, then he sang it in English, “I am not forgotten, I am not forgotten, I am not forgotten, God knows my name”.

There was a little girl there named Bella. I was trying to size her feet on the sizing mats, and we were having a little difficulty helping her understand how to step on the mat to be sized.  The orphanage director came up and said, “she’s not normal” and went to take her away, to which I replied “she’s fine, let me size her”.  We were able to have Bella stand, sizing her and then, fitting her little feet into her new shoes.  I watched her walk away, her uneven gait breaking my heart.  What gives her the label “not normal”?  I wondered what was wrong, I am used to the way people with developmental and physical issues are treated there, it is heartbreaking.

Later, I went and found Bella she was in the kitchen area of her little dorm.  I said “vini, vini” (come, come) to her with my arms out.  I received the best hug from this little angel, she just held on and on and I prayed she could feel the love and affirmation that yes, she is not normal, but EXCEPTIONAL.  Upon my request, we hugged it out about 4 times.  There is the moment where you have to leave and you don’t want to, you want to stay because you feel that you must.  You worry, “who will love this child, hug this child, tell her she’s beautiful, important?”   Basically, it sucks to leave each time.   But I have to trust that someone, somewhere tells Bella she’s exceptional.  She sings the same song Maurice does, “I am not forgotten, God knows my name”.  

We traveled back to Thomazeau that day and began to work alongside LiveBeyond again as they treated more people in the clinics.  We had some of the best kids that day, one of them being a group of pre-teen girls.  We had already told them in Creole that we had no shoes for them.  “pa gen okenn soulye pou ou”.  They just wanted to hang.  I love watching girls in Haiti, when they are friends they walk alongside each other holding hands, or with their arms intertwined.  It is the sweetest thing, and very interesting to me how they interact.  These girls wanted to hold our hand, to lock arms, kiss us on the cheek.  One girl wanted to talk to me, and if I looked away, she grabbed my chin and brought my face back to hers.  I loved that…in that moment I wished I could understand her, but I was honored, I was her newest friend that day. One of the cool girls…

Speaking of cool girls, we had several on this trip, one being Olivia.  She and her bestie Annie were on the trip together, two very worldly teenage girls.  I was in awe of them.  Olivia saw me give my shoes away the day before and asked if she could give hers to someone, to which I said “YES!”, quickly followed by “Olivia, you will know when you should”.  And Valentina, leader of the Haitian cool girls, was Olivia’s girl.  Her shoes fit her perfectly and Valentina just glowed, strutting around in her “new” gently loved white Converse tennies.  Valentina, all legs and arms with this 100 mega-watt smile. 

The last night we were there, we were able to connect some with my friend Amy.  Amy traveled with Soles4Souls twice in 2012, and I was lucky enough to be with her for 10 whole days.  She left Haiti in August 2012 and said, “I have to do something here” and she definitely has.  She has an orphanage she fully supports now, Project House of Hope, feeding, clothing and schooling the children there. Amy is just a gem, she is an example of someone living palms up ready to give out when she receives.  She told us about a women’s health class she recently taught to the women there in Montrouis.  None of the women knew what ovulation meant, they also thought that drinking ice-cold water after sex would prevent pregnancy. But the one thing that Amy told me that made my head swim was their response when she explained the “no means no” concept.  They just looked at her and explained, “maybe to you, but here no doesn’t mean no”.

I think about this a lot for the rest of the trip, especially as I saw the beautiful women of Haiti walking along the roads, their posture so regal, transporting items on their heads. 

 

Wilfrance, our wonderful driver in Haiti, is studying to be a lawyer, he reads a lot and is honestly one of the best drivers I have had ridden with.  Wilfrance MIGHT say three words to me during a trip, and I achieved a personal goal of making him laugh this last trip.   He sent me a Facebook message after I arrived home.  His message to me was: “you also make a good job when help some children don’t have a shoe, when you arrive sleep well because I see in your eyes you very tired”

Honestly, this made my eyes well up with tears.  Wilfrance is my friend.  It is that simple.  You can’t go over there and do life with these wonderful people and not connect with them somehow.  I feel the same thing with Paul.  His love for his country has grown tremendously over the last few years.  Paul is so smart and resourceful, he is always working, and he is working for others.  Paul brought his daughter to meet us the last time we were there, and handed his infant son to me to hold.  It is in those times that I love Haiti the most, when I look at little Ken, the spitting image of his Dad.  I see hope, beauty and possibility.  I know its possible that there is a better day for Haiti.  We just have to keep working together alongside Haiti and for Haiti.  And we can’t forget.

…I am not forgotten, I am not forgotten.  God knows my name.

I am broken. News flash, we all are.

If you have lived enough life, you have some bumps, bruises and scars.  It happens.  That’s what life does to us, it breaks us.  Sometimes our brokenness is caused by the choices we make, sometimes we have no choice at all. Something comes along and it shatters us.

Life is never the same.  So, we “protect” ourselves, we build walls, we self-medicate, we hurt others.  We break others.  We tell ourselves, “if I can keep everyone far enough away, I can prevent myself from being broken again”.

That’s a sad, horrible way to live.  It is also a cowardly way to live. We have one life on this earth, and we are meant to embrace it for all its worth. 

Instead of being broken, I think we should be brave.  If life knocks us down a notch or two, its OK.  Its happened before (it will most likely happen again).  Get up, acknowledge the bump, and keep going. 

I remember being in Honduras with my friend Ty.  We went to a village with his big medical kit in tow, and the children knew there were band-aids in there.  All of the sudden, EVERYONE had a boo-boo.  I think I put 20 band-aids on wounds of varying degrees.  Some tiny and some significant.  The children just wanted to someone to notice their wound and tend to it.  Then, they got up and kept playing.

They didn’t let the hurt keep them from life.

Be brave. 

Being brave means you open yourself up to life, relationships and new opportunities.  Yes, it also opens you up to rejection.  But I can guarantee that brave people have less regrets than broken people.  They have more “oh well, I tried” and less “I wish I had tried”. 

Do whatever you have to do to dress the wound, but don’t let it stop you from living the life you were gifted with.