By LINDA M. LINONIS
For many people, going barefoot is a choice. For others, it is their only option.
That’s where Soles4Souls steps in to help.
The nonprofit organization receives donations of used shoes and clothing and new items from corporations and retailers.
It makes direct donations to people in need and also sells the items to select micro-enterprise organizations that generate jobs and revenue in poor communities.
The Rev. Edward Brienz, director of the office of missions and evangelization in the Diocese of Youngstown, said the diocese has worked with Soles4Souls since 2006.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Father Brienz began coordinating mission trips to New Orleans and other areas adversely affected by the devastating storm. He saw that people needed food, shelter, shoes and clothing. The priest learned about Soles4Souls. Diocesan churches and schools sponsor collections.
“It’s practical for the donors. ... They clean out closets and keep unwanted shoes out of landfills,” Father Brienz said.
More importantly, he emphasized, the shoes go to people who may not have one pair. Collections may provide tennis shoes for a girl at an orphanage in Haiti, casual shoes for a woman in Africa, and boots for a man in Appalachia. Shoes for children, women and men and footwear for all climates are needed.
Father Brienz said footwear that goes to people in need does more than shoe them — it also saves lives. “In some Third World countries, there is no access to tetanus shots or antibiotics when someone develops a medical issue after going barefoot and injuring their foot,” he said. Shoes provide an avenue to having a job and attending school.
About 40 churches and schools in the six-county diocese sponsor collections. Soles4Souls provides collection boxes stamped with its logo.
A shoe collection is underway at St. Charles Borromeo Church, 7345 Westview Drive, Boardman. Karen Stazak is coordinator of ministries at the church. Connie Spin is chairwoman of the parish life committee, which handles the shoe collection.
Deacon Mike Kocjancic said St. Charles has been involved in the shoe collection for nine years. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the response,” he said, adding parishioners not only donate used shoes but also contribute new ones they buy. “That effort impressed me,” Kocjancic said. “We’re blessed in how our congregation responded.”
“Helping people makes you feel good,” Spin said. She explained the parish life committee is involved in other projects including playing bingo with residents at Marian Living Center, Christmas wish tree for clients of Catholic Charities, coat drive in October for the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, Veterans Day brunch for church members, and anniversary Mass and Seder.
Stazak said the shoe collection is one of the ministries that help people. A community meal is planned for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. March 26 in the social hall.
Once the shoes are collected from various sites, delivery to Soles4Souls is the work of Joe Fraser of Niles, a member of St. Jude Church in Columbiana.
The General Motors retiree said Father Brienz asked him if he would help with the effort, and he’s been involved about five years. “It sounded interesting,” the volunteer driver said.
He makes three to four trips a year to a collection site in Defiance,
racking up about 420 miles per trip. So far, he’s made four 14-hour trips to a Soles4Souls collection point in Alabama, about 1,200 miles one way. “I don’t drive any faster than my guardian angel can fly,” Fraser said.
“I think of it as ‘have van, will travel,’” he said of his participation. “It’s helping people.”
Fraser said the collections aren’t counted by pairs of shoes but by weight. “The most I’ve taken to Alabama has been 1,820 pounds. The average is about 1,700 pounds,” Fraser said.