December 16, 2008
Groton students gather shoes for the needy
GROTON — John D’Antonio’s students think if the shoe fits, there is someone in the world who needs to wear it.
For nearly a month, his fifth-grade class at Groton Elementary School has been on a community shoe-gathering spree, with about 500 pairs gathered and piled in their classroom.
All of the shoes are being shipped off to Soles4Souls, an organization based in Nashville, that ships shoes to as many as 80 countries worldwide.
D’Antonio centered the project around the theme of “why people work hard for others,” framing various aspects of his curriculum around it.
D’Antonio heard about Soles4Souls in September during a broadcast of Mike and Mike in the Morning, and thought it would be a good community project for his students.
“I thought we could do something worthwhile,” D’Antonio said.
Soles4Souls got its start shortly after the 2004 India tsunami, when founder Wayne Elsey decided to form a group to collect unwanted shoes that have piled up in peoples’ closets. Elsey was a former executive for Kodiak-Terra, a Canada-based boot company before taking over Soles4Souls full time.
More than 1 million pairs of shoes were donated to victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to the organization’s Web site.
Soles4Souls has since made contributions all over the world such as Honduras, Uganda and Mexico.
Aside from collecting shoes, D’Antonio set up side activities for his students, all centered around the project.
One activity D’Antonio used in class, designed for analysis skills, was to make a graph using about 20 pairs to show which types of shoes and colors were most common.
Over the course of the project D’Antonio’s students said they learned a bigger sense of some of the problems that exist in other countries that people in the U.S. may not think about.
“There are some kids in the world that have to walk through the town dump just to find a pair of shoes,” said Alyssa Charpono.
People in those situations are at risk for hookworm, a parasite common to parts of Asia, Africa, Central America and South America, according to the Soles4Soles Web site.
This is why collecting shoes that people never wear is important, D’Antonio said.
“Through the course of the project we learned in the United States alone there are 1.3 million pairs of shoes in closets that have never been used,” he said.
Since they began collecting in November, the fifth-grade students have traveled into the middle and high schools, to boost interest.
“They went into every classroom (in the middle and high schools) and the kids even sat down at lunch tables,” D’Antonio said.
His students’ enthusiasm for the project came as no surprise to D’Antonio.
“This group is very passionate and excited about the things we do in class,” he said.
To help track their progress, D’Antonio set up a blog for the project. It can be accessed at: mrdantonio.edublogs.org/.
The blog follows the course of the project, with links to other information about Soles4Souls.
“When we do something, we go all-out,” D’Antonio said.
Kailea Decker, 11, said she thought it was funny that the fifth-graders taught the older students.
“It was weird because we were teaching the older kids things, and they’re the ones who are supposed to be teaching us things,” she said.
D’Antonio’s class also took the project home with them, encouraging their families to clean out their closets of old shoes.
Jake Slocum said his mother has piles of shoeboxes as big as his school desk lying in her closet.
Chris Carmichael, a communications director at Soles4Souls headquarters, said the organization has been able to branch out to so many countries because all of the employees are former footwear executives.
“Before we got our start, the footwear industry lacked a specialized charity group of its own,” Carmichael said.
Soles4Souls works with companies such as Adidas, Hush Puppies and Deckers.
Carmichael said each of these companies donate shoes each year in varying amounts — sometimes more than 100,000 pairs.
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