Fresh Starts for Small Soles: Fashion Meets Philanthropy

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photo-3I recently had the opportunity to visit my friend Lisa Garrett who lives in Costa Rica. Before my visit, we discussed going to the country’s beautiful beaches, visiting waterfalls and volcanoes, eating freshly-picked fruit off the trees on her block and interacting with friendly monkeys in town. But my real burning desire was to see her in action and experience her mission work up-close and personal. Lisa is the founder of an organization called “Souls Helping Soles”,  which helps the local impoverished children make fresh starts by putting on their feet shoes that have been donated and delivered by local and international volunteers.
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“Souls” was started with a single suitcase of shoes brought to Costa Rica by a friend of Lisa’s while visiting her one year ago. Shoes are collected in many states in the US and hand-delivered by visiting “shoe mules” who are in the country on business or for pleasure and who have gained awareness about Souls’ mission through the networking of Lisa and her friends, family, peers, and constituents. While the organization is still in its infancy and at the grassroots stage, it has grown into an force that has provided hundreds of pairs of shoes, bringing wide smiles to children while giving them the opportunity for a fresh start in life.
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The majority of the children who receive the shoes have never owned a pair of shoes before and have never attended school. Putting shoes on their feet means much more to them than the physical protection of their feet. It means they can play sports and walk to school. It means hope for a brighter future. It builds their self-esteem through playing interactive sports and gives them hope for a brighter future through education.
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Naturally, when Lisa asked if I could deliver an oversized suitcase of shoes given to me by her father and collected locally by her mother, I jumped at the chance to help. I am proud to say I am a “shoe mule”!  And what I gained from the experience I almost makes me feel guilty. From the moment I took that suitcase through two stations of customs — in Miami and Costa Rica –to the time it was put into one of the vans of a “Soul” volunteer, I felt like a trustee delivering precious cargo akin to gold needed to rebuild a city.  When we pulled into a small village on the outskirts of Liberia (of the Guanacaste province) you could hear a pin drop. The only sign of life on the dusty chalk-covered street was barking of an under-nourished stray dog and a few unhoofed children trying to cool off in the 105 degree heat with a small hose trickling water, which, by the way, was the only water source in the village.
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As soon as the doors to our vans slid open and the bags of shoes were laid on the ground,  hundreds of barefoot children surrounded us with earnest smiles and waving hands. It was indeed a moment of hope: their miracle. A few hours later, after fitting all the feet we could — bags empty and hearts full — we climbed back into our vehicles and vanished, retracing the white, narrow, dusty road that led us to our mission hours earlier.

Reflecting back to that day soothes my soul, knowing that we made a difference. And knowing that Lisa Garrett continues her daily crusade in Costa Rica with the support of so many champions of change at her side gives me hope.  I will continue to do my part here at home–creating awareness, collecting shoes, serving as a “mule” with an extra suitcase in tow when possible and carrying the message of hope for a better life, one pair of shoes at a time.
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The writer is the owner and operator of Fresh! Boutique.

 



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