From Haiti to My Hometown

A lifetime of giving comes full circle.

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At an orphanage in Haiti.

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My Sweet 16 where many pictured joined our efforts to aid fellow Staten Islanders.

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Caroline, distributing shoes after the storm.

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Chris Enlow of Keen distributing shoes after the storm.

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Devastation wrought by Sandy on Staten Island.

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A lifetime of giving comes full circle.

It wasn’t too long ago when I found myself smack-dab in the middle of a disaster zone where the plight of human suffering was overwhelming, unimaginable and unforgettable. To be exact, it was Labor Day weekend in 2010. I was part of a Soles4Souls outreach mission to assist people in Haiti still suffering the effects of the devastating earthquake that struck the Caribbean island nation 10 months prior. To my eyewitness account, the level of destruction and the way thousands of its citizens were still sleeping in makeshift tent cities and scrounging for food, water and clothing would have you believe the earthquake hit but a few days prior to our arrival.

We dove right in trying to help in any way we could, and we distributed our donations of shoes and clothing in teeming cities and rural areas. We got our hands dirty and we loved every minute of it. When we set up a drop zone in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, a line as far as the eye could see formed almost magically. We visited a local orphanage to hand out donations to too many children of all ages. They were always gracious and their incredible smiles said it all. I helped hand out thousands of pairs of shoes over those three days, but I gained far more than I could have ever imagined in memories and the satisfaction of helping fellow human beings in a time of desperate need.

I returned home energized and reaffirmed by the power charitable work holds. I also vowed to go back to Haiti some day—or anywhere else Soles4Souls might be reaching out to people in need. Little did I know that my next outreach mission would be located a few miles from my Manhattan apartment in my hometown of Staten Island, NY. Hurricane Sandy walloped my beloved borough. Dozens of people perished and thousands of homes were destroyed by the storm surge. Close friends I grew up with lost their entire homes.

Once again, I dove in to help in any way I could. Thanks to the industry I have had the pleasure of working in for nearly two decades, I reached out to Soles4Souls and to several brands directly—Keen, Rocky, Wolverine, Cat Footwear, Pediped and Livie & Luca—for donation requests ASAP. When you literally don’t have a home or a single pair of shoes to your name and you’re faced with mud, mounds of debris and freezing temperatures, you immediately appreciate the life-saving protection footwear provides. I’m proud and thankful to report our industry answered my call—wonderfully and beautifully. Thousands of pairs were sent and distributed through various relief organizations, including one created by a childhood friend, Derek Tabacco, called Guyon Rescue. Chris Enlow of Keen joined us for a day to help distribute 2,300 pairs. Thanks to our industry’s kindness, my friends have nicknamed me, “Feet Fleet.”

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you… Your acts of kindness have meant the world to me and the people of Staten Island. I am more proud than ever to tell friends, family and anyone I come across that I work in the footwear industry. We continually deliver on the needs for comfort, protection and performance, not to mention the joy footwear fashion brings to millions of people. We are also incredibly compassionate toward our customers. Whether it’s QVC FFANY Shoes on Sale, Soles4Souls, Two Ten Foundation or the too-numerous-to-list other cause-related initiatives and organizations our industry members support, we give back and then some. It’s reciprocation in its finest form.

Often the circle of giving rewards in unexpectedly beautiful ways. Such was the experience one of our Guyon Rescue volunteers had while handing out donations. She wrote me this poignant email: “Something amazing happened. I delivered a bunch of gorgeous shoes to two beautiful girls. One named Katie is a 20-month-old who is severely autistic. She is precious. Her mom looked familiar. And then it hit me: She was my grandmother’s nurse. She was pregnant with Katie when my Nani was in the hospital. Nani loved her. I know it was meant for me to deliver these shoes.”

Thank you again, and I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year.

Caroline Diaco, Publisher

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