By Ana Mengotti
Miami, Apr 23 (EFE).- Imelda Marcos amassed 3,000 pairs of shoes during her late husband’s 1965-1986 reign as strongman of the Philippines, but a group of South Florida high school students needed just weeks to collect 12,000 pair to aid the homeless.
“It sounds very basic, but a good pair of shoes has a big impact on a person’s life,” Hilda Fernandez, CEO of Miami’s Camillus House charity, tells Efe.
Fernandez, whose organization distributes the shoes, has come to the Miami Lakes home of the Inguanzo family, serving for a fourth straight year as a warehouse for donated footwear.
Though the “Loving Soles” project began in 2011, this year’s haul of shoes is unprecedented in terms of both quantity and quality, according to Gina Inguanzo, who is proud of her son and twin daughters for their part in the effort.
The appeal is for donations of new or “lightly used” footwear and Gina says that she has never seen so many new pairs, including well-known brands still in their original boxes.
Gina and husband Ramiro Inguanzo have spent the last five weeks working with Christopher, Sophia, and Susanna and the kids’ classmates at Archbishop Edward McCarthy High School to bring together and organize the shoes.
The next step is transporting the shoes from their home to Camillus House, founded in 1960 by Brother Mathias Barrett, a member of what is now the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God – Province of the Good Shepherd in North America, to assist Cuban exiles.
Camillus House, which has become a model for institutions devoted to serving the homeless, delivers the shoes into the hands of people who need them.
“One can wash clothes, but worn-out shoes with holes can only be improved by exchanging them for another pair,” Fernandez says.
Living on the streets means a lot of walking, she points out, estimating the number of homeless people in Greater Miami at any given moment at around 1,000, with another 2,500 in shelters.
“It’s been incredible to see the outpour of love from the community. In a world riddled with so much negativity, this display of generosity restores hope and faith in humanity. Perhaps that is the greatest miracle and the greatest impact – that lives are changed for both the giver and the recipient,” Fernandez said of Loving Soles.
Gina Inguanzo recalls that in 2018, the year her family took over the project from the founders, Ileana Gutierrez McGoohan and her two children, they collected just 500 pairs of shoes.
“This year I would say there are more than 12,000 pairs, there are more inside the house than are here,” she says, gesturing to the cases stacked on the lawn. EFE