Trying 'em on for size

Residents donate shoes to help other countries

Residents donate shoes to help other countries

April 06, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Everybody has a mission, but sometimes what that calling is isn't clear until after a few tries, "kind of like trying on shoes," Grace United Methodist Church Pastor Clark Carr said Wednesday while standing in front of a truck that was loaded with more than 1,200 donated pairs of them.

The shoe-stacked Planet Aid truck parked in the driveway of Johnette "Inky" Eckstine's home was the realization of a mission the 66-year-old Boonsboro woman took on with the help of her 7-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Eckstine.

Eckstine and Sarah had been watching a television broadcast about devastation in Pakistan, brought on by an Oct. 8 earthquake, and wondered how they could help. "Inky" Eckstine said she had one of Carr's sermons about answering God's call in her head at the time.

Sarah Eckstine said that while watching the broadcast she thought, "Why are we just sitting here doing nothing and they're just walking around? They have to walk on the cold snow with barely anything to walk with."


After searching two months for a contact in Pakistan, "Inky" Eckstine got connected with Planet Aid, a nonprofit organization that helps people in developing countries, and started her quest to collect shoes for those like the Pakistanis.

For three weeks, members of Grace United Methodist Church and St. Ann's Catholic Church in Hagerstown, Rehoboth United Methodist Church in Williamsport and students and staff at Fountain Rock Elementary School collected 1,213 pairs, she said.

Sarah said that socks were also collected "because they wouldn't want to walk around with shoes with their ankles cold."

On Wednesday, even more shoes came in. Among the pile of sandals, high heels and sneakers were two pairs - one a size 11 children's pair of dress shoes and one a size 15 men's pair of sneakers - that came from a teenager who lives down the road from Eckstine.

"Everything you pick up has life in it," Eckstine said, as she and Sarah handled the shoes, wrapped loose pairs with rubber bands and stuffed them into plastic garbage bags.

Cam Aylesworth, collections manager for Planet Aid, which is based in Columbia, Md., said the shoes will be sold to international wholesalers who will take the shoes to countries such as Guatemala and Chile, where they will be sold at affordable prices. The money the organization receives for the shoes, which he guessed would be about $2,000, will go toward developmental programs in Third World countries.

"If they need water, we teach them how to dig wells. If they need crops, we teach them how to build an irrigation system ..." he said, describing some of the ways Planet Aid helps.

Sarah said she was disappointed that the shoes will not go directly to the people she saw walking in Pakistan, but realizes that they will be used to help other people who need it.

"Inky" Eckstine said she was a little disappointed at first, too, but said, "It'll make somebody happy."

Those who saw the shoes off Wednesday spoke of how impressed they were with "Inky" Eckstine's desire to reach those earthquake victims.

JoEllen Barnhart, associate director of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, said "'Inky' walked in one day frustrated and passionate about getting a shoe drive together for these folks in Pakistan who didn't have shoes. She was distraught about it."

Eckstine said she had tried calling just about everybody.

"I wrote to President Bush. Haven't heard. Still waiting," she said with a laugh.

Barnhart said she directed Eckstine to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office, thinking maybe she could find a connection to Pakistan through the senator.

Julianna Albowicz, Western Maryland assistant to the senator, said she gave Eckstine a few possible numbers, but a couple of weeks later, Eckstine called back, saying, "'I'm at my end' ... She said, 'I can't go any further.'"

That's when Albowicz found Planet Aid and gave the information to Eckstine.

"We're excited for it and look at all the good it's going to do," Albowicz said, motioning to the truck, which had just been opened to accept the garbage bags filled with shoes.

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