Students give new shoes to needy

Jif creamy peanut butter, Campbell’s Soup and green beans, all packaged in industrial size containers – these are items the D.C. Central Kitchen receives more than 2,000 pounds each day, but it’s the things the kitchen doesn’t get that it really needs.

When GW Hillel students organized a month of hunger and homelessness awareness projects, they thought not just about the homeless’ stomachs, but also their feet.

Red, black, mocha and cream in pumps, sandals, boots and clogs, more than 200 pairs of the finest and most comfortable Israeli-designed footwear by NOAT were sized and distributed to the recent graduates of D.C. Central Kitchen’s Culinary Arts Job Training Program Sunday.

The 12-week training course prepares students for the workforce with hands-on experience, small class sizes and instruction from visiting chefs. Many of the students need professional attire to obtain jobs, so the shoes are part of their attire that they badly need, said senior and one of the event’s organizers, Meredith Weinberg.

“We are able to give them more dignity with shoes than just giving a donation,” she said. “We felt it was a great way to reward them for their accomplishment and give them something useful.”

With a pair of worn-down black boots that were covered in dried dirt, Rose Blackwell’s eyes opened wide and her smile never left her face as she slid on her new aspen clay footwear.

Forty-four-year-old Rico Hayes said he felt the same.

“This is the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn,” she said.

A graduate of the 1999 program, Karen Lewis now operates her own kitchen and came in with her four children to get sized and feel a new pair of leather.

“This program turned my life around,” she said. “If you have the right heart, then this program is for you.”

With more than 25 GW Hillel students sizing, fitting and organizing shoes for the graduates, the first-floor room quickly became a swarm of service.

“I guess we’ll need a bigger store next time,” said Comfort One Shoes President Maurice Breton.

Throughout the month, GW Hillel organized volunteer opportunities with other shelters, made blankets for the homeless and brought in speakers to discuss issues facing the needy.

It culminated into “Fulfill Your Soul,” said Weinberg, encouraging students to connect with other local people and agencies.

President of the D.C. Central Kitchen Robert Egger said he was also thrilled.

“I am extremely grateful for your help, and so are the graduates,” he said. “There are a lot of happy people here. This is how good deeds are done.

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