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Making a difference one pair of shoes at a time

Shoe drop off

Andrew Ferguson, John Ferguson’s father, with Chloe Heard and Albert Cho of Tisha Grote’s AP Government class at Lakota East High School, deliver more than 220 pair of new shoes in various sizes to Military Veterans Resource Center in Hamilton. About 350 pairs of shoes have been donated to date with more on the way. The shoes range in price from $50 to more than $160 each.

There is nothing like the feeling you get when you put on a nice, comfortable pair of shoes. But what if you did not have the resources to keep good shoes on your feet, especially during the cold winter months?

A good and sturdy pair of shoes are a means to living a better life.  Especially for veterans living without a means of transportation except their own two feet.

Thanks to a new partnership with The Shoe Project, Military Veterans Resource Center (MVRC) will be able to provide sturdy shoes to hundreds of veterans and their families now and into the future.

From what started as a failed business attempt, then later a hobby of sorts, blossomed into something special for the Hamilton teen who started the venture five years ago.

John Ferguson, 17, a recent graduate of Lakota East High School in Hamilton, started collecting shoes and shipping or hand-delivering them to people around the world when he was 12-years old.

The Shoe Project, which started in his family’s garage is now an international nonprofit with an army of over 500 volunteers in 50 countries that has helped more than 15,000 people around the world to date.

John Ferguson handed off local operations to Lakota East High School’s AP Government class, taught by Tisha Grote. Outreach is being handled by his father, Andrew, as John is headed off to study at Harvard next fall after completing a year with the U.S. State Department in China.

John Ferguson is backed by Mojo Running & Trialathon store in West Chester. The store helps with new shoe donations and serves as a collection point for used shoes.

In a recent interview John Ferguson said, “My definition of success is how many lives I can positively affect in my time here. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. I think success can be measured by what and how much we give.”

The Shoe Project partnered with MVRC to provide new and gently used pairs of shoes for veterans and their families at the end of October with an initial donation of about 220 pair. They were delivered by the students in Grote’s class. A second donation on Dec. 14 has brought the total to more than 350 pairs of shoes so far.

The shoes range in size from infant to adult and are worth $50 to more than $160 each, said Dan Dunaway, veterans services specialist at MVRC in Hamilton.

Andrew Ferguson said the volunteer students are enthusiastic about taking over the local program from John.

“Awareness of the need in our community makes an impression and they learn how they can tangibly make a difference,” he added.

Dunaway said he recently gave shoes to a homeless veteran who had nothing but flip-flops on his feet.

“He was wearing flip-flops because that was all he had … I gave him an extra pair in case the pair he has on gets muddy or wet, so he’ll keep his feet warm no matter the weather,” Dunaway added.

Dunaway said the veteran was very grateful and remarked that he walks everywhere and that getting new shoes has changed his whole outlook on life.

Shoes donated to MVRC’s center in Hamilton will be shared to all resource centers (Columbus, Chillicothe and Dayton) in Ohio which will make an even bigger impact.

“The shoe program is the best thing that has ever happened to us … We can make a real impact in the community now,” Dunaway said.

If you would like to donate shoes to the cause, you can drop them off at Mojo Running at 8777 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West Chester, Ohio 45069. They have a collection box where customers and the public can drop shoes.  You may also donate online:

Shoes do not have to be new, but there must be visible life left in the shoes (good tread, no holes, etc.).  Part of the project’s process prior to distribution is to separate, organize and disinfect the shoes.

By Stefanie Hauck