Encrypted with pictures and prayers, seven-year-old Justice Flora’s letter started out as an innocent request. After reading an article in Clubhouse Jr. Magazine, Flora decided to respond to the publication’s summer challenge to collect shoes for those displaced in Haiti. Like any child his age, the second-grader took it one step at a time and established a goal− 500 pairs of shoes, any kind, any size and any style to be collected by Aug. 15. With a little help from his parents, Juan and Pam Flora, Justice put his plan into motion, releasing a personalized letter to friends and family members in early July asking for their donations. What followed next was a movement that even a seven-year-old’s imagination couldn’t have envisioned.

The donations began to trickle in slowly, a few pairs a week until the Floras revved up their efforts. Pam handed out letters to co-workers at a local hospital. Juan took letters to colleagues at the post office where he works. Justice’s older sister, Jazmyn, advertised on Facebook and his grandparents spread the word at the shopping mall where they walk for exercise.

Through a family-concentrated effort, Justice’s goal was reached quickly. By the time his cutoff date arrived, his summer labor had translated into 1,120 pairs of donated shoes, more than doubling his original aim. The youngster’s contribution was substantial enough to place as the largest donation by a single family to the Shoes 2 Share Ministry, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the challenge. “It made me feel happy,” Justice said about his sizeable donation.

In less than two months, the Lanham, Md., native accumulated so much footwear, his parents had to take two trucks just to deliver their contribution to the ministry’s headquarters in Delaware. Rhonda Wampler, founder and CEO of Shoes 2 Share, is used to seeing large donations but even she was surprised by the Floras’ contribution. “On average, through this challenge we get anywhere up to 100 give or take,” said Wampler. “We’ve had a couple of large donations come in Justice’s is one of the larger ones.”

Since being established in 2003, Shoes 2 Share has collected new and like-new shoes and distributed them to 18 different countries around the world. The organization processes 50,000 to 100,000 pairs of shoes each month and regularly donates them to hospitals, clinics, shelters and other associations in need of footwear. The ministry was requested by Clubhouse Jr. Magazine earlier in the year to become the journal’s summer challenge for its readers. By the time the magazine reached Justice’s hands, one picture of a Haitian boy draped in a pair of unraveling shoes was all it took for him to say, “That little boy needs to have shoes like me.”

The Floras are not Haitian, but ethnicity was of no importance to Justice, who attends Riverdale Elementary School. When it comes to donating, Justice says, “I’m going to do it again,” and his mother nods her head in prideful approval.

“That’s what it’s all about, “said Pam Flora. “We’re here to help others. Initially, we didn’t even think we would get to the 500 but it just goes to show you that people are willing to help others in need if given the opportunity.”

To learn more about Shoes 2 Share or to make a donation, visit www.shoes2share.com.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO