The Spirit that Sustained Us Through it All

From the blog of our president and CEO, Buddy Teaster

I write a year-end reflection every December and it’s always bittersweet.

Bitter because our work takes us to the places that are most inconvenient and least comfortable. Poverty, in all its forms, is very complicated. Whether it’s extreme poverty in underdeveloped nations where people survive on less than $1.90/day, or relative poverty in our own country where one third of families struggle to make ends meet, or sudden poverty anywhere when disaster strips individuals of their livelihood—it’s never pretty. Not in the mountains of Bolivia where countless children live so isolated they consider themselves “forgotten”. Not on the beaches of Haiti where even the sun sometimes struggles to stay bright. And not in the U.S. heartland, where bounty misses many hands.

Sweet because these are also the places that get under our skin—the places that gift us moments that leave lasting imprints in our hearts and show us the best of the human spirit.  

The spirit of the hundreds of volunteers who traveled with us this year to help us distribute the gift of shoes. They flew thousands of miles from east and west, loaded and unloaded countless bags of shoes, cramped into vans jerking on unpaved roads and learned to say “you’re welcome” in new languages—all to experience that precious moment of sitting across from a child, taking their feet into their hands, rinsing off the dirt and slipping on a brand new—and often first and only—pair of shoes. Colin Strickland, who joined us in Haiti this summer, did just that. And after finding a pair of tennis shoes to match a young orphan’s best outfit, he summed it up perfectly. “This is what it’s all about.”

And the spirit of our partners who help us reach orphanages, schools and shelters—makeshift homes for victims of neglect, abuse and circumstance. Many, like Raul Carrasco, have themselves overcome the odds and dedicate their lives to empower others. Today, Raul is a martial artist, community leader, trusted friend and our go-to Honduras connection. But not long ago he was just another young man struggling in the shadows of a dangerous city. Someone gave him the gift of opportunity, and he took it and never looked back. And by helping us distribute the gift of shoes, he’s giving others an opportunity of their own. He’s right in saying that “a community without hope is a dead community.”

And the spirit of those who benefit from our work. They who stand strong and grateful in the face of tremendous adversity. The resilience of women like Ana Rodriguez never ceases to amaze me. Like so many others, Ana and her family evacuated their Houston home in August fleeing the impending wrath of Hurricane Harvey. For the sake of her young, scared son, she pretended it was all a long vacation—a vacation that has continued in borrowed shelters while they try to rebuild their lives. With both possessions and job lost to the storm, she’s struggling to provide her children even basic necessities. And the weather is turning colder. But when the local school announced that Soles4Souls would distribute new shoes for families in the area, she found a renewed sense of hope. “Things are complicated, but not impossible” she says. “We may have problems, but we’ll forge ahead”.

And in this season of joy, I especially remember your great spirit. That spirit of generosity that has sustained your gifts of time, talent and treasure to Soles4Souls through the bitter and sweet of 2017. Your sacrifice, care and love are the reason poverty—be it extreme, relative or sudden—won’t ever overcome us. The sense that “we’re in this together” is reason for feeling profoundly grateful. And I include you in that circle of gratitude. You, who donate new product for distribution. You, who lead used shoe drives in support of our micro-entrepreneurs. You, who travel with us. You, who donate your hard- earned dollars to keep it all going. Thank you!

The need, and our role in addressing it, is clear and urgent. There are a lot of brave, scared, uncertain people in the world’s most inconvenient and uncomfortable places. They are fathers and mothers who can’t make a steady income to provide for their families. They are sons who risk painful cuts and disease by walking barefoot over unsteady ground and, yes, soil parasites. They are daughters who will never learn to read or write because they lack the required shoes for school. As we head toward the end of 2017, all I can ask is that you remember them. Their struggle may seem overwhelming, but we can disrupt their cycle of poverty with the simple yet powerful gift of shoes—shoes that sustain small but profitable businesses, protect children from disease and make education more attainable. Please consider making a donation so we can continue to bring them a message of hope in their time of need. And on behalf of the countless lives you have already changed through your generosity, thank you.

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