Shoes go a long way in kids’ drive with local interest
Taking part in an annual worldwide shoe drive allows persons in Gilmer County to help fill a basic human need for orphaned and disadvantaged children here and abroad, confirmed both a local church pastor and a woman who participates in the shoe collection effort each year.
The Shoes for Orphan Souls drive is sponsored by Buckner International, an international nonprofit Christian organization that assists orphaned and impoverished children.
“New shoes for children who don’t have them can make all the difference in the world,” said David Smedley, pastor at Ellijay Hope Lutheran Church. “They put (these kids) on a path to better health and safety, to being more hopeful, to having more of life’s opportunities available to them and to feeling better about themselves.”
A humanitarian mission
Diana Barbato has coordinated shoe collections at the local church the past eight years. She first heard about the humanitarian aid campaign on a Christian radio station and sympathized with its mission to help improve the lives of kids who do not have parents to clothe or raise them.
“I was listening to WMBW radio out of Chattanooga. They (take part) in this campaign every year and I listened to them talk about it,” said Barbato. “The Lord put it on my heart (to do this) so I appealed to the pastor to take it to the church council. That’s how it began here.”
Barbato said the Buckner drive is a very personal, very coordinated effort. “They don’t ship crates of shoes. They’re delivered by short-term missionaries who go there and see the individual children. This month, a group went from the Chattanooga area to Oaxaca, Mexico,” she said.
“The missionaries have to get down and wash the feet of the child and fit the shoes on their feet,” Barbato continued. “They tell these children, with an interpreter if necessary, that Jesus loves them and that the shoes are a gift from people in the United States who love them. I think that’s the most important part of it.”
There is a special need for athletic shoes and boots due to the rough terrain and climates where some of the items are distributed. Only new shoes should be donated, Barbato said.
“Sturdy shoes (are what’s needed),” she confirmed. “The older children these shoes are going to are already working, so they need something very sturdy. They say youth 1 to adult 9 or 10 are the most needed (sizes).”
Donations of new socks and shoelaces are also accepted.
“Each pair of shoes given a child comes with two pairs of socks,” confirmed Smedley.
Barbato said leather boot laces work well because they “can be used for almost any (shoe) and can be put to any length.”
The church also accepts cash donations that are used to purchase more shoes and socks.
Information provided by the Buckner organization states that 30 percent of the donations are typically distributed in the United States. Since 1999, the organization has given over 3 million pairs of shoes and socks to kids in 82 countries.
A collection box has been put up on the front porch of Hope Lutheran Church, 3295 Old Highway 5 South, Ellijay.
Donations will be accepted until the end of August. It’s OK to drop them off after hours, Smedley said.
Another drop-off location in county
Ellijay retailer North Georgia Mountain Outfitters is also accepting shoe drive donations.
“We feel pretty strongly about the project (and) want to do the best we can with it. This is our third year,” said store owner Travis Crouch. “It’s just a simple way for people to really bless a child.”
There used to be more drop-off points in the county, Barbato said, but the Lutheran church and North Georgia Mountain Outfitters are now the only two. Last year, almost 150 pairs of shoes were collected between the two locations.
“We are kind of strategically located. We’re north of town and the church is south of town,” Crouch said.
North Georgia Mountain Outfitters is located at 14244 Highway 515 North, in the White Path Commons shopping center.
Crouch said the store is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and that late donations can be arranged by calling the store at 706-698-4453.
“We’ll make arrangements. I don’t want somebody to not donate because of a scheduling issue,” he added.