Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
Photography: JIM DAVIS | FC
MIAMI LAKES | When a group of Catholic students thought of how to help the homeless, they lowered their sights – to ground level.
Young volunteers for the Loving Soles project donated thousands of shoes in April to Camillus House, an outreach to Miami’s homeless.
Months of volunteer work culminated April 22, 2022, as a van pulled up to the home of Ramiro Inguanzo to collect a record 12,000-plus pairs of shoes. The collection was the fruit of more than three months work for the dozen teens, collecting, cleaning, sorting and boxing the items, including the Inguanzo siblings: Susanna, Sophia and Christopher, all students at Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High.
Why? Because few others do it, the youths say.
“Most of the time, people give clothes or food,” said Jonathan Lozano, 16, one of those who showed up to help load the Camillus House truck. “If I were in their situation [of the homeless], I would want someone to do this for me.”
Hilda Fernández, Camillus House director, also showed up to thank the kids personally.
“These kids are amazing,” said Fernández. “Every year, they get donations from more schools and municipalities. It’s a labor of love for them.”
Lucas Diaz, 14, saw the shoes building up in the Inguanzo garage and asked Ramiro about the project. “I thought it was a great idea,” Lucas said. “It’s giving back to others who are not so lucky.”
LEARNING PLUS DOING
Elise Cuali, 16, said this was her second year with Loving Soles. “It makes me grateful, appreciative of my own privileges, and that I'm not homeless.”
Teaching plus “experiential learning” have apparently made the difference for the young volunteers, Inguanzo suggested.
“They go to Catholic schools, which teach them about almsgiving,” Inguanzo said. “And some of the kids have volunteered at Camillus House. Once you see it with your own eyes, it makes a difference.”
The Inguanzos’ involvement with Loving Soles began in 2018 with a field trip to Camillus House. Fernández told them that the shelter gets a lot of clothes but few shoes. The Inguanzos and their friends decided to make it their project.
They began the following year, collecting 500 pairs. From there, the project mushroomed despite the COVID pandemic: 2,000 pairs in 2020, then 5,000 in 2021. This year, the youths set a goal of 10,000 pairs of shoes, then lost count at 12,000.
Their work has reaped help from a dozen Catholic schools, a Baptist school, four charter schools, St. Thomas University and the archdiocesan school superintendent’s office.
At least 19 municipalities have helped as well. In Miami-Dade, they range from Pinecrest in the south to Golden Beach in the north, with the likes of Miami Beach and Miami Shores in between. Some Broward cities also took part, including Dania Beach and Hallandale Beach.
“So many people were willing to help, especially in Miami Lakes,” said volunteer Danika Pachas, 17.
Seven hundred pairs of shoes came from Bal Harbour alone, where Inguanzo is the city manager. One anonymous resident actually bought 200 new pairs for Loving Soles, he said with amazement.
SNAPPING THE ROPES
Even State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle sponsored a drive at her own office, yielding 500 pairs of shoes.
“A good pair of shoes can provide more than just physical comfort,” Rundle said in a statement. “They can provide the emotional first step necessary to snapping those ropes keeping someone tied to the streets.”
Although the Camillus House trucks arrived in April, the Loving Soles project began in January. That’s when the youthful volunteers began collecting boxes – from the likes of Amazon or people who were moving – totaling more than 200 containers.
In February, they began asking schools and municipalities to start rounding up shoes. The following month, the kids began driving to the donors and collecting shoes.
“We picked March 15 because it’s National Shoe the World Day,” said Sophia Inguanzo, 17.
Susanna, her twin, added that it’s also a time for spring cleaning, when families scrutinize what to keep and what to toss. “We ask people, ‘If you're going to throw out shoes, why not donate them?’”
Their focus then turned to organizing the shoes by men's, women's and children's styles. The task was eased this year because some of the donors had already presorted their shoes.
By April, the Inguanzo home was jam-packed. Bags and boxes filled the garage, the family room and the dining room, lining the halls – and overflowing into the garage of Ramiro’s mother, two blocks away.
Finally, Camillus House workers showed up with a truck on April 22, but it had room for less than half of the shoes. They promised to return with two more trucks on May 6, Ramiro said.
Camillus workers brought a surprise thank-you gift: two trays of cookies. The cookies – loaded with M&Ms, chocolate chips and macadamia nuts – were baked with a Camillus House recipe, Hilda Fernández said.
She added that donations of shoes and clothes benefit the needy not only physically but psychologically.
“You lose your dignity when you're on the street,” Fernández said. “People come in with shoes that are torn and have holes in them. When they get new clothes and shoes, they feel refreshed, rejuvenated.”
Next step comes in the summer, when the shoes will be distributed. And yes, Ramiro Inguanzo said his three kids plan to help give out the shoes, again with some friends.
“This is where they get to see the people who benefit from the collection,” Inguanzo said. “For them, this is the cool part.”
And next year? More of the same. The youths plan to broaden the Loving Soles appeal to other schools and cities, both in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
“Every year, we want to keep expanding,” Sophia Inguanzo said.