SHOEING THE SHOELESS
By Mardi Ford
Type "Operation Shoe Fly" into the query box on your Web search engine and watch what happens. Page after page of site options sharing some U.S. soldiers' humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan will come up.
Sites include a variety of serious bloggers and amateurs; of housewives, schools, church groups, tons of soldiers' homepages, and even the U.S. Army's Public Affairs Web site,
It almost seems as if hordes across the country have known about "Operation Shoe Fly Â— Bringing the Hearts of America to the Soles of Afghanistan" for months, displaying the power of this far-reaching "new media."
On Aug. 13, 2004, the Army's Public Affairs Web site ran a news story that stated:
"Operation Shoe Fly began as a small, simple effort to make a difference in Afghanistan one child and two shoes at a time. It is a humanitarian effort by soldiers and families of Company B, 214th Aviation Regiment Hillclimbers that deployed to Afghanistan in March. Spearheaded by 1st Sgt. Jim Thomson, Operation Shoe Fly started as a home-grown idea by a small Army unit that mushroomed into a program that now boasts local and national support."
A few months ago, La Grande Pastor Bill Moses saw a posted flyer with Operation Shoe Fly story written by one of the soldiers involved in bringing supplies to Afghanistan by Chinook helicopter. It read, "a large percentage of the children have no shoes to wear and of course, almost all of the girls are shoeless."
He took a copy of the flyer back to his youth group of 20 kids from elementary to high school ages at the La Grande Church of Christ. As soon as the kids read the flyer, Moses said, they were concerned and wanted to help.
"What struck us the most was how that soldier reported girls are treated Â— with the influence of the Taliban, the boys get everything, " Moses says.
According to the flyer, for example, U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan have learned when giving a piece of hard candy to a girl, they must unwrap it for her first so she can pop it in her mouth before a boy has a chance to take it away from her.
So, when the Church of Christ youth group began gathering shoes for Operation Shoe Fly, it was not unusual that a large majority of those shoes were for girls Â— pink tennis shoes and Barbie snow boots. Some people even thought to tuck in a pair of socks with each pair of shoes, Moses adds.
Moses isn't sure exactly how many pairs of shoes his youth group gathered during their six-week drive, but he does know they crated up nine big boxes of shoes.
The group also raised their own money to cover shipping the shoes to Afghanistan. Not knowing exactly how much it would cost, the kids were pretty sure it would be expensive. So, Moses says they orchestrated a fundraiser by gathering and recycling pop cans, raising about $60 for shipping costs. Someone donated an additional $20 to help, Moses says.
Luckily, before they had mailed the boxes they discovered that since the flyer had first been circulated, a central collection site was established in Salt Lake City. The kids were able to mail the boxes there for about $75. Moses says they found out it would have cost them about twice that to ship the boxes to Afghanistan.
The youth group at the Church of Christ hopes its efforts will be copied in other youth groups, service clubs and even individuals throughout the county.
"We heard about a single Eagle Scout in Hawaii who is gathering shoes all on his own," Moses says. "Really, with winter coming there are things we can all do to help these children meet their basic necessities."
To learn more about Operation Shoe Fly
Go to the U.S. Army Public Affairs Web site, http://www4.army.mil/ocpa/.
The shipping address for the collection site in the United States is:
Bridgeport Systems OPSS
c/o Operation Give
542 W. Confluence Ave.
Salt Lake City, UT 84123