Assistant manager at E.L.M. travels to India, Africa to give away shoes

Zane Steward volunteers with the nonprofit organization Soles 4 Souls

September 06, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Zane Steward recently returned from Tanzania, where he helped deliver shoes to residents. It was the second international humanitarian trip for the E.L.M. Shoes employee.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. — Far from this idyllic town, Zane Steward traveled the globe to help others. The assistant manager of E.L.M. Shoes in the square of downtown Greencastle, Steward, 25, said it was just coincidence that his first humanitarian trips involved shoes.

It was the shoe store’s partnership to collect donated shoes in the past that raised Steward’s awareness of the group. Steward said they have run a short donation period in exchange for a discount on new shoes once a year, every other year.

As a volunteer with the nonprofit organization Soles 4 Souls, Steward was one of a group of 15 to 20 American volunteers who traveled to India in August 2011 and another group that went to Tanzania in Africa to distribute shoes this summer, mainly to children.

“I really don’t want the spotlight for what I’m doing. I just enjoy it. It ties in with my religious beliefs and helping to serve others,” Steward said.


The volunteers get a chance to play with kids, measure and wash their feet and fit them with a new pair of shoes, often their first pair of shoes. The shoes, which are similar to Crocs, are purchased in the country where they are to be distributed, to help the economy there, Steward said.

Without shoes, children and adults go barefoot or use pieces of old tires, plastic bags and cardboard to protect their feet, Steward said. About 500 to 1,000 pairs of shoes were distributed per trip.

“People told me, once you go to Africa you will fall in love with it. Within 24 hours, it felt like home, because the people are so warm and giving of the few possessions they have,” Steward said.

The donated shoes are used for distribution domestically. 

Volunteers also take digital photos of the children and learn their names, which is important to the children, Steward said.

“It fuels the fire even more to see another part of the world, culture. It’s eye-opening how they live, their culture,” Steward said.

Steward was born in Hagerstown, where he lived until third-grade, when his family moved to Greencastle.

He graduated from Greencastle-Antrim High School in 2005 and worked for E.L.M. Shoes while in high school.

He left briefly for college, then moved to Nashville, where his sister and brother-in-law live, for several years. Steward continued in the shoe business, working for New Balance.

When Steward returned to Greencastle in 2008, he got his job back at E.L.M.

Steward said his family vacationed mainly in the New England area when he and his older sister were growing up. It was his first overseas trip to France, Spain and Italy with a school group right after high school graduation that sparked his desire for international travel.

After college, Steward traveled to Ireland. When he learned of the India trip, he started saving for it. 

“I definitely prefer travel when I can help others, when there’s a purpose for the trip,” said Steward, who set aside time for touring, not just work.

While in India, Steward got to go “up into the mountains” and hiking. The Africa trip included a visit to River Gambia National Park for chimpanzee tracking and boat rides.

Immersion in different cultures has changed Steward, who said he returned from both trips wanting to purge his material possessions. He has seen how much happier people with so much less are.

“We live totally differently. We live with so much excess. Society-wise, we’re driven by money, possessions. They’re people just like us and deal with the same issues,” Steward said.

The 1 1/2- to two-week trips usually include an interpreter, in case no one in the community they’re visiting speaks English.

For his next trip, Steward, the son of Greg and Gay Steward, has applied to travel to the Ukraine with Eastern European Missions and is waiting to hear whether he’s been accepted to go. This will be a mission trip distributing Bibles and teaching, he said. 

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