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Tornado rips through warehouse, provides 180,000 shoes for orphans

SAN ANGELO—Alan Wilson of Templeton Construction didn’t like the idea of destroying new shoes. So, when he was given the job of taking shoes out of the tornado-wrecked R.G. Barry Corporation distribution center to the city dump, he became the first in a series of heroes to help bring 180,000 pairs of shoes to needy children.

Due to insurance regulations, the shoes were declared unavailable for sale or in-country distribution after a tornado hit the warehouse. When Wilson was asked to dispose of the undamaged shoes, he decided to seek out charity organizations instead. He ended up at a military base, where he met Carmen Nila, who remembered the Shoes of Orphan Souls collection drive last year at her church—PaulAnn Baptist in San Angelo.
Texas Baptist Men and Buckner staff unloaded boxes of shoes at the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas.

“If Alan Wilson hadn’t made contact with Carmen Nila, and if PaulAnn Baptist Church hadn’t done a shoe drive the year before, and if the tornado never even hit… well, then we wouldn’t be here today,” said Rachel Garton, director of Shoes for Orphan Souls, a ministry of Buckner International.

“There are a lot of heroes in this story. A lot of people came together to make this donation happen. And a lot of kids will benefit because of it.”

Greg Tunney, president and chief executive officer at R.G. Barry Corporation, said his company regularly works with footwear-based charities including Soles for Souls and the Two Ten Foundation.

“But the aftermath of the San Angelo tornado was an unusual situation,” Tunney said. “Our insurance called for all products damaged in the tornado to be destroyed to prevent possible resale.

“Fortunately, they agreed to let us to donate these shoes and slippers to the Shoes for Orphan Souls organization rather than sending them to the landfill. We could not be happier.”

Samantha Batten, 26, called the R.G. Barry donation a “God thing.”

Batten, a member of PaulAnn Baptist Church, coordinated a Shoes for Orphan Souls drive with her friend Kirby Winchester in 2007.

They made fliers, called radio stations, talked to the city newspaper, spoke from PaulAnn, designed posters, went on air in their local TV station and contacted just about everyone they knew. They collected 300 pair of shoes.
A team of volunteers from PaulAnn Baptist Church and the San Angelo community worked to load two 18-wheeler trucks from Wal-Mart to deliver shoes to the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas. It's the first of 15 expected trucks to be filled with shoes for delivery.

So when Garton told Batten that up to 10,000 shoes were going to be donated (unaware the actual number was more than 10 times that amount), Batten cried.

“Are you joking?” she asked.

No, Garton wasn’t joking. But she was smiling—broadly.

“It’s amazing how God can take something bad and make something good out of it,” she said.

More than 30 volunteers from PaulAnn Baptist Church sorted and boxed shoes earlier this month in a lot behind the R.G. Barry warehouse. Wal-Mart offered to provide up to 15 tractor-trailer rigs to transport the shoes to the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas.

The volunteers downed bottles of water in minutes, and their faces reddened as PaulAnn Pastor Kirt Dauphin reminded them of a simple truth.

“Just remember, each time you toss a box into that truck, you’re putting shoes on the feet of an orphan,” he said.

Kelsy Emmons, 20, volunteered because one of her friends is a member of PaulAnn Baptist and called her about the need for volunteers.
A team of volunteers from PaulAnn Baptist Church and the San Angelo community worked to load two 18-wheeler trucks from Wal-Mart to deliver shoes to the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas. It's the first of 15 expected trucks to be filled with shoes for delivery.

“I came out because I saw an opportunity to serve and that’s what Christ would do,” Emmons said. “I called in to work and said I’d be late.”

“It has been remarkable to watch God bring these shoes to Buckner,” said Ken Hall, president of Buckner International. “The people of San Angelo really came together on behalf of the children who will receive these shoes. Buckner is so grateful to R.G. Barry for allowing us to distribute the shoes. And we could have never done this without the work of the members of PaulAnn Baptist Church and Wal-Mart.”

Hall said the blessing of receiving so many shoes also comes with the responsibility to distribute them.

"We're definitely going to need financial support for additional storage and shipping expenses," Hall said.

Although the number of shoes collected in San Angelo was unprecedented, Garton emphasized that there is still a great need for people to host shoe drives and donate shoes.

“The shoes we received from R.G. Barry Corporation are mostly slippers and house shoes,” she said. “They will be a huge blessing to children in different parts of the world, especially in the colder countries. But there is still a need for sneakers and shoes that protect the children’s feet.”

For more information about Shoes for Orphan Souls, visit www.ShoesforOrphanSouls.org or call (866) 774-SHOE.
 
 
 
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