If you would have asked me, when I was kid, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you a football player, or fireman. I had high aspirations of walking out onto that field and hearing the roars of the fans as they cheered while I scored the winning touchdown. Maybe instead I would be running into a burning building to rescue a family that was trapped, or rescuing little kittens from trees. All of these things ran through my mind, and I was determined to make one of them a career. Unfortunately, life happens. If you’ve read my other story called “My Hero”, which was submitted to the “Boss Mom” challenge then you’d know I was very sick growing up. I never could play football being as sick as I was, and even after I was cured I was too injury prone to ever make a career out of it. The fireman gig never happened either, and like many other people’s lives I found a different career for most of my life. However, if you would have told me that someday I’d be the founder of a charity that gives shoes to kids in need I never would have believed you. Funny how life works out.
My name is Daniel Matea and I am the founder of Heart & Soles Ministries. About 3 1/2 years ago I started the charity when I discovered something completely by accident. While on the phone with a friend in the Philippines I noticed her nieces and nephews were playing outside without any shoes on. I simply blew it off as kids wanting to run around in their bare feet. However, that was not the case. She soon explained to me that shoes were a luxury over there, and a lot of kids couldn’t afford them. I’m not necessarily a “shoe guy”, but like most Americans I owned at least three or four pairs. I thought this was a silly thing to go without and with the support of friends and family we gathered some shoes & toys to send to the kids. Since it was Christmas time it worked out perfectly, and the kids were able to open them on Christmas morning.
The kids were so excited to be opening up all the toys and candy we sent to them, but when they got to the shoes, something changed. Not only were they excited to be receiving the shoes but a couple of them started crying. One girl in particular started crying loudly and thanking me via face-time over and over again all because she had never owned a pair of shoes before.... she was 11. I was absolutely shocked that shoes made such a big impact in their lives, but then my friend explained to me that the kids all over the Philippines go with out shoes to protect their feet. She told me there was trash everywhere and the kids would have to step on rocks, and broken glass all day. She had even told me one of her nephews was special needs and had an infection on the bottom of his foot. The infection was getting worse because he didn’t own a pair of shoes to protect his feet, and he didn't understand why he couldn't play with the rest of the kids. After a little bit of research, I learned this was a huge problem not just in the Philippines but all over the world.
Millions of kids all over the world go without proper protection for their feet, and in a world where we dump trash, glass, and discarded needles everywhere this was simply unacceptable. I knew right then something had to be done, and without even thinking about it Heart & Soles was formed.
Over the years Heart & Soles has expanded beyond what I could ever imagine. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a problem even in my own community. Thousands of kids in my own county were struggling to afford shoes that fit their feet. So, I went to local businesses, churches, and people, to ask for shoe donations to give to the kids in need. I formed a team of volunteers to help me and we collected new and used shoes to give out to anyone who needed them. We quickly became the number one supplier of shoes in our county to shelters and clothing giveaway centers. I would even pile shoes into the back of my car and drive out to low-income apartments to ask if any of the kids needed shoes, and within hours they would be all be gone. A year later I took a trip to the Philippines to hand out shoes to orphanages, and local villagers. Kids came from miles around to stand in line to receive shoes and sandals. It was surreal to see the kids stop playing, and come running for an opportunity to get something to protect their feet. One boy in particular begged me for the last pair of sandals even though they wouldn't fit his feet. I tried showing him they weren't his size, but he told me he'd cut the straps off and tie them to his feet. He showed me the bottoms of his feet and I saw the open wounds...my heart broke for him. He couldn't afford a $2 pair of sandals and his feet had permanent scars because of it. We went back to the store the next day, bought almost all of the remaining sandals, and handed them out to the rest of the kids....but there were still kids who didn't get any after we ran out. It wasn't just the kids who were ecstatic to receive the shoes and sandals that I remember the most, but also the hundreds of others children who we weren't able to get shoes and sandals because we ran out. Their dejected faces as they walked away stuck with me the rest of the trip.
We receive shoe donations, and financial, and every donation we receive goes 100% to the kids. We use the financial donations to buy shoes/sandals directly overseas and the shoes that we collect locally we donate to our local communities. The new shoes we receive are packaged pretty quickly and given immediately back out to the those in need, but the used shoes sometimes need some TLC before we can re-gift them.
When we receive used shoes donations, we sometimes have to fix them, and clean them up a little bit, before we can give them out. This requires scrubbing them, putting new insoles in them, putting new shoe laces in them, and we even use scissors every day to clean up some of the rough points on the shoes. Scissors are necessity in our line of work and are used to take off any worn-out edges, or clean up the inside cloth before we refurbish them for donation. We use scissors to open taped shoe boxes, deliveries, cut off loose materials, or even to cut our “Thank You” cards to fit inside every shoe. It might not seem like it but scissors play a huge role in making sure every donation is done correctly. This work can be extremely tedious at times, but it is well worth it in the end. There is nothing like the joy of handing out a pair of shoes to a child who desperately needs them.
If you would have told me, when I was younger, that I’d be running a charity I would have told you no way. But life had a different path for me. Now I am passionate about helping kids all over the world receive protection for their fragile feet in the form of shoes, and I wouldn’t trade this blessing for anything in the world. Heart and Soles Ministries is my joy, my passion, and it is what fuels me every single day. Everyday I get to wake up and put a smile on a child's face somewhere in the world, and nothing makes me happier than that.