Approximately 3,500 pairs of gently-used shoes were collected during the recent Blue Ridge Cable TV-13 "Let Them Walk In Our Shoes" campaign.
Event coordinator Marie Johns, TV-13 news anchor, said she was extremely pleased with the amount of shoes that were collected.
At a news conference Saturday morning at the Lehighton Armory, Johns thanked the students of 15 elementary schools in the viewing area, plus Panther Valley JROTC, local legislators, and the One Love Foundation for helping make the project a success. She also thanked Paul Wortmann, who oversees the Lehighton Armory and George Duell, liaison with the military and Bill Chapman of the Pennsylvania Committee for Employee Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) for their assistance.
Johns noted that since the "Walk in Our Schools" project started five years ago, 20,000 pairs of shoes have reached those in the local area who need shoes, and also several corners of the world, including Arizona, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.
Johns said that the project started when a soldier stationed in Afghanistan asked to have shoes sent for the children. She noted that the U.S. soldiers had distributed the shoes, but since now that the country is standing on its own, the soldiers have stepped back and are letting the country take care of its own.
She said she has partnered with the One Love Foundation to have shoes sent to war torn and poverty stricken Sierra Leone, where many of the children never had a pair of shoes.
"Half of the shoes will stay right here to help the those who need shoes," said Johns. She said the shoes will be distributed locally in Brodheadsville, Bushkill, Stroudsburg, Tamaqua, Lehighton, Northampton and Jim Thorpe. The overseas distribution is being handled by the One Love Foundation, which is named after a lacrosse player whose untimely death sparked the formation of the foundation that strives to do good deeds in her memory.
Johns said that the shoes collected by the students are picked up by the National Guard Armory staff.
"The schools are so excited to see the trucks," she said, adding that at some schools a small group of students greet the soldiers while in other schools, the entire school awaits their arrival.
She said that she accompanied SPC Nicole Monroe, Taissaa Patuch and SSG Michael Roberds from the Lehighton Armory to pick up the shoes.
Shethanked state Reps. Mario Scavello, Mike Carroll, Jerry Knowles, Rosemary Brown, Doyle Heffley, Mike Peiffer, Julie Harhart and state Senators David Argall and John Yudichak, who donated funds toward the shipping costs, along with Ss. Peter and Paul School, Shull David Elementary and Wallenpaupack Elementary.
Pencor employees held a dress down day to help pay the shipping costs.
Johns said that she has learned a lot about organizing the project from the first year, when they had to match up shoes scattered across the floor. She described the current effort as organized chaos.
"It may look like chaos, but everyone is moving and the job gets done really fast," she said.
She said the boxes were packed and the trucks were filled in record time this year.
Maria Stianche of the One Love Foundation said the shoes will be sent 4,000 miles to Sierra Leone where there is a brutal civil war.
"These shoes may be the first and only shoes for the children. Thank you for all you do. This is a valuable project, not only for the children who are receiving the shoes, but for the children here who are learning the value of volunteering at a young age."