Revelations: Nearly 5,000 thank you's

Jennifer Preyss

BY JENNIFER PREYSS

The other day, I received an e-mail from my mother about the charity shoe drive I helped organize last weekend called Barefoot Sunday. She sent out a proud mother mass announcement to family and friends alerting everyone that Barefoot Sunday was a great success.

Attached in the body of her e-mail were all the previously printed articles and video clips that have followed the project since early February. And as I was scrolling through her letter and clicking links to previous articles, I started realizing I was looking at the information through new eyes. I was reading the articles and watching the video clips already knowing we'd surpass our shoe collection goal by nearly 4,000 shoes.

But allow me to share with you that I never believed through the entire planning process - not even one day - that we'd exceed our goal to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes. And, I thought if we did exceed the goal, we'd only be a few hundred shoes over.

Since October, I've experienced indescribable stress attempting to organize Barefoot Sunday, while convincing others to join in the planning process with me. Many days, it seemed to be too much, and I considered giving up. Not to mention, it was the first time anyone had ever tried to organize a citywide Barefoot Sunday, and even I knew it was a bit ambitious.

Even Palmer Chinchen, the pastor who spearheaded Barefoot Sunday from his home church in Arizona, confessed to me last week that when I first brought the idea to his attention last November via Facebook, he thought "Oh, a citywide Barefoot Sunday, that's a good idea," followed by, "I'll never hear from her again."

A few weeks into the project, I started running into a few road blocks. I experienced difficulty locating a venue and couldn't seem to convince anyone else to help me plan Barefoot Sunday.

I considered momentarily, I might be in over my head. But I kept hearing this nagging voice telling me to "Keep going, God will not let me fail." I'm fairly certain I told that voice to take a hike on many occasions.

So, after weeks of praying (and asking others to pray for the project), I noticed a strange shift in enthusiasm for Barefoot Sunday. Seemingly, out of nowhere, volunteers started approaching me about helping me plan, such as Advocate education reporter Erica Rodriguez and my Bible study friend Thomas Rendon. And during a casual conversation one afternoon with Pastor Bard Letsinger, explaining my frustration about not securing a venue, Bard said excitedly, "I got a space, have it here."

Suddenly, I had a team, a venue, and a plan for Barefoot Sunday.

And then - the shoes started trickling in. Churches, businesses and schools started calling about how they could collect shoes for Barefoot Sunday. And Keaton Warren, a junior at St. Joseph High School contacted me about wanting to collect 2,000 pairs of socks to go with our 1,000 shoe collection goal. And Palmer Chinchen, excited about witnessing the first citywide Barefoot Sunday take shape, contacted me and said he was flying into Victoria to participate and speak at the event.

And the Victoria Advocate agreed to be an official Barefoot Sunday sponsor, printing posters, producing articles and running advertisements for the Sunday shoe drive.

Every possible event detail, and there are too many to reflect upon now, was taken care of with minimal planning. Someone either approached me to give, or I asked them and it was given. Whatever the need was, it was met.

And even through the craziness of Barefoot Sunday, I still didn't believe we'd reach the 1,000 goal. Everyone told me I was worrying too much, but I guess I didn't want to put a guarantee on something, until I saw it for myself.

Then last Friday came, and the Advocate sent out vans to collect shoes from our 20 shoe donation sites around the city. I received a call midday from Erica that the drivers needed to make a pit-stop at Renegade because they couldn't fit any more shoes in their vans.

"Really? Wow, that's a lot of shoes," I told Erica. "I wonder if we hit 1,000?"

I met the drivers at the church and helped unload the shoes from the van. I stood back and excitedly stared at all the shoes and said, "That sure does look like 1,000 pairs. I think we made the goal!"

But then Sunday came, and I drove up to Renegade about 3:30 p.m. to start counting shoes (I thought it was just going to be me and Thomas) and noticed how many cars were already there. At least 15 volunteers were waiting to help count shoes, and about 20 more showed up throughout the day to assist with last-minute details. And while we counted, bagged and rubber banded the pairs together, truck loads of shoes were being dropped off.

Before the event started at 6 p.m., we'd collected about 4,000 used and new shoes for impoverished families in Africa, Haiti and Victoria. And when Barefoot Sunday was over, we had about 4,700 pairs.

The next morning, as if God just wanted to brag, another 250 pairs of shoes were dropped off at my office, bringing the count to about 5,000.

Every fear I had about the event was unfounded. Every one. I'm still so annoyed that I couldn't just relax and believe God would not let me fail. And if it hadn't been for the community, a few key organizers, a generous Renegade pastor, a second-grade Faith Academy teacher wanting to share the importance of donating shoes to African families with his class, a St. Joseph high school junior interested in making an impact on the world, a Candlewood Suites manager willing to donate hotel rooms, about 18 churches, a Jewish temple, an Islamic mosque, a half dozen businesses who assisted in various ways, a visionary Arizona Pastor, a Light Feet Project founder, and a community newspaper that cares about their employee's ambitions to aid those in need, Barefoot Sunday would have never formulated.

And God would've never had the chance to prove me wrong . again.

So, thank you Victoria for allowing this project to touch the community and the lives of those receiving the shoes.

Through your thoughtful generosity, you've truly made an impact on the world in ways you may never fully understand.

Give yourselves a hand.

Jennifer Preyss is a re porter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jpreyss@vicad.com.