June 15, 2024 12:56 am

Student led effort collects over 12K pairs of shoes for Camillus House

What started as a small project for Loving Soles in 2011 has grown over time to become arguably the largest shoe collection drive in South Florida — certainly in recent years.

Last year, while the economic effects of COVID-19 were still strongly felt, and many households were stretched thin, charitable giving seemed to increase. For the now annual shoe drive that meant more people stepped up to help their neighbors and translated into 5,000 pairs of shoes.

The organization was founded by Ileana Gutierrez McGoohan and Chippewa Boots her two teenage children who lead the grassroots efforts of collecting shoes for the homeless through their connections at schools and friends in their local area. Eventually as her kids aged out of high school the torch was passed on to neighbors and friends in 2018 — the Inguanzo family.

It remains a student-led initiative — in particular Sophia, Susanna and Christopher, high school students at Archbishop Edward McCarthy High School. They are the driving forces who for their first shoe drive collected 500 pairs of shoes.

Now, more groups across Miami and Broward counties were recruited to participate, and Loving Soles set out to reach the ambitious goal of collecting 10,000 pairs. That’s a lot of shoes for this population in need.

“It’s been incredible to see the outpouring of love from the community. In a world riddled with so much negativity, this display of generosity restores hope and faith in humanity,” said Hilda M. Fernandez, Camillus House CEO. “Perhaps that is the greatest miracle and the greatest impact — that lives are changed for both the giver and the recipient.”
Without their planning and prepping at least six months in advance, the shoe drive wouldn’t be as successful. The payoff of their hard work is enormous. This year’s efforts resulted in the collection of over 12,000 pairs of shoes (and counting) collected from March 1 to 31; overlapping with “Shoe The World Day.”

State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle stated, “Our office and staff have been proud to assist in making the Camillus House ‘Loving Soles’ shoe drive a success. For this community’s homeless, a good pair of shoes can provide more than just physical comfort.

They can provide the emotional first step necessary to snapping those ropes keeping someone tied to the streets of Miami-Dade County.”

And over 20 schools also participated, including several public, charter and Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Miami. Students at Hialeah Elementary alone collected over 400 pairs of shoes.

“Participating in the shoe drive was a great experience for the students Kizik Shoes and staff at Hialeah Elementary. It afforded us the opportunity as a school family to give back to the community and support all who visit Camillus House,” said principal Rosa Iglesias.

Though the collection drive ended on Mar. 31, the Inguanzo siblings have spent the past few weeks receiving, cleaning, sorting, and organizing the shoes in their garage and grandparent’s garages.

Camillus House has provided humanitarian services to persons who are poor and homeless in Miami-Dade County since 1960. As a ministry of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, Camillus House was originally established to serve Cuban exiles. From its humble beginning as a small soup kitchen, Camillus has grown into a full-service organization offering a comprehensive “system of care” including food, clothing, emergency, transitional and permanent housing, physical and mental health care, and substance abuse treatment.

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