MIDDLEBURY — Just before the Jan. 12 second anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, three local moms early this month delivered more than 700 pairs of shoes collected in Addison County to needy children on the Caribbean island.
“There is an incredible culture of humility that happens when you take a trip like this because we come from a place of such excess by comparison,” said Andrea Ward, a New Haven resident, who made the Jan. 4-8 relief trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with Maria Graham and Kelly Hickey.
Hickey of Weybridge created the shoe drive in October 2010. That fall she collected from drop-off sites around the county some 660 shoes, which were sent to Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity that collects new and gently used shoes, redistributing them to those in need around the world.
She attributed the second year increase in collections to community-wide support.
“It was better this year because Hurricane Irene put people in the mood to give,” Hickey said. “The Middlebury cross country team helped out a lot with Irene and wanted to do more. They gave us 50 pairs of shoes that really tipped us over the 700 mark.”
Ward and Maria Graham are co-directors of Junebug, a resale store specializing in maternity and young children’s clothing in downtown Middlebury.
“We took as many basics as we could,” said Graham, a Middlebury resident. “We came back with just the clothes on our back and our toothbrushes.”
Graham and Ward went beyond shoes, packing two 50 pound duffle bags with soccer balls, nail polish, hair ribbons, sidewalk chalk and clothing from Junebug.
“We carried 28 soccer balls all the way to Haiti, pumped them up, and gave them to kids living in UNICEF tents,” Graham said. “To take pictures of those kids and bring them back to the people who donated the balls is such a satisfying feeling.”
Even the waitstaff at American Flatbread got involved, donating $200 from their tips to help defray the cost of shipping the shoes to Soles4Souls.
Graham said the success of the project is a testament to the charity of the Middlebury community.
“The fact that they supported us and gave us the money to go on the trip says a lot about the community, that they think what we were doing was worthwhile,” she said.
All three moms agreed their children were the unsung heroes behind the trip.
“Our children were amazingly generous, and I think that was one of the things that was so amazing about our trip,” said Ward. “They were so willing to give us their chalk for kids in Haiti and support us through all the preparations.”
Ward’s nine-year-old daughter Sabi said she missed her mom but was proud of her work in Haiti.
“I offered to go through my toys and give away the ones I didn’t need any more,” she said. “It felt really good to do that.”
Sabi said her mother’s trip gave her a love of Haiti and the desire to someday follow in her footsteps.
“People just think of Haiti because of the earthquake and because a lot of people are poor there,” Sabi said. “Yes that’s true, but the people there are also amazing.”
Graham has struggled to answer the barrage of inquiries regarding the trip. She encourages people to stop asking and go themselves.
“You can’t put words to our experience,” Graham said. “I think people just need to go (to Haiti).”
Hickey will be on sabbatical next year from her job as a yoga instructor, but hopes Wade and Graham will continue the shoe drive.
“I think that not only will the shoe drive become annual, but the trip (to Haiti) will also eventually become annual,” she said.
Graham realizes that Junebug, the shoe drive and the trip to Haiti are only small philanthropic endeavors, but said she has big hopes for the future.
“Sometimes it feels like a drop in the bucket, but if you keep dropping, eventually the bucket will be full.”
Independent intern Kyle Finck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.