For more than a week, it was not unusual for Lauren Palmer to find a bag of sneakers on her doorstep every time she arrived at her home in the Carmel Road area of South Charlotte.
Palmer, a stay-at-home mom with two young children and part-time ministry assistant at Uptown Church, had been moved by a news photo of a 3-year-old Syrian boy’s body washed up on a beach. Alan Kurdi had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea as his family fled Turkey.
“I’m embarrassed that it took that image to get my attention, but it did, and my heart ached for these families and their loss,” Palmer said. “I had to do something. I wanted to reach them.”
As the photo of Kurdi gained international attention, popular Christian blogger Ann Voskamp published a post called “5 Ways To Stand Up & Be The Church in The World’s Worst Refugee Crisis Since World War II.”
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Palmer, 31, and a former corporate event planner for Wells Fargo, read the blog post one night while checking social media.
One of the blog’s suggestions was to connect with Greek volunteers who were giving toiletries and other items to refugees who arrived by boat on the island of Lesvos.
Tennis shoes for men, women and children were listed as the greatest need.
“I didn’t think about it too much,” Palmer said. “I just decided that night to do it.”
She needed to collect shoes and mail them to Greece, which could cost thousands of dollars. Palmer and her neighbor, Carmen Andre, sent information about the collection drive to friends, associates and co-workers and posted it on Facebook.
Nine days into the drive, Palmer said, “It has been an overwhelming response.”
She had hoped to collect 200 pairs of shoes, and she received more than 400. A silent partner, who Palmer did not know before the collection drive, offered to pay for shipping. Andre received a big shopping bag of new socks, which will be stuffed in the shoes, at her office.
Many of the shoes came from “micit” moms, women associated with the closed “micit” Facebook page where moms in the South Charlotte area buy, sell and trade items online.
Palmer stored the shoes in her basement, which became piles of colorful sneakers of all sizes. She inspected each pair and discarded about 10 percent of donations that were overly dirty or damaged.
Palmer ended the collection drive Sept. 14 to keep the project manageable, and in the following days volunteers helped tag each pair of shoes with its European size.
Volunteers also rolled up small pieces of paper with this message in Arabic and English:
“We hope these shoes take you safely to where you want to go. Sent with love from North Carolina, United States.”
Palmer asked a high school friend, who is from Lebanon, to translate the message, which was put in the shoes along with a new pair of socks.
The shoes will be boxed by size and gender and mailed to Lesvos.
Andre, who also helped organize and prepare the shoes for mailing, said she was glad Palmer reached out to her.
“People are really moved to help, but they may not have the outlet to do it,” Andre said.
Palmer plans to continue learning about the Syrian refugee crisis and said she likely will organize other projects.
“While I wish I, or someone, could solve this very large and complex problem, I can’t,” Palmer said.
“And I know shoes may seem small, but God is big, and my prayer is that meeting this basic need will help encourage and heal broken hearts and show them the love of Jesus.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read Ann Voskamp’s blog about the Syrian refugee crisis, visit http://www.aholyexperience.com.