Today begins March Madness– three weeks of college basketball at its best. When it comes time for the Final Four in Atlanta, there will be something more important going on than just a lot of hoops. Thanks to Samaritan’s Feet, basketball players, coaches, and fans will be providing service to local children, giving them hope, encouragement and a new pair of shoes.
Samaritan’s Feet, a non-profit whose mission is “servant hearts…sharing hope,” is the life work and passion of its’ Founder, President, and CEO, Manny Ohonome. Manny grew up in a village in Nigeria where the children didn’t have access to foot ware. He was the first in his family to have shoes when he came to the United States to play basketball for the University of North Dakota. Ten years ago, after relocating to America, Manny returned to Nigeria for his father’s funeral. While he was there, he noticed that the children of his village still didn’t have access to shoes. Without shoes, those children can not attend school and get an education because shoes are a part of the mandatory school uniform. Without shoes, the children fall prey to parasites which led to foot infections, amputations, and even death. Manny found out that in Africa, 300 million children are at risk without the opportunity to wear shoes. Worldwide, over 1 billion children do not have adequate shoe care. Then and there, Manny began a vision to “put shoes on children all over the world.” His goal: to give 10 million children a pair of shoes. Since establishing Samaritan’s Feet, he is half way there, providing shoes for 5 million children, in 65 countries around the world, and in over 200 communities in the United States.
How Samaritan’s Feet gives the shoes to needy children, is amazing. Volunteers welcome each individual child to their “station.” They call each child by their name, introduce themselves, and begin removing the worn, ill-fitting shoes the child has on their feet. The volunteers then spend 10 minutes bathing the child’s feet — in the same manner Jesus Christ did with his Apostles — all the while talking to the child, learning of their goals and aspirations, giving them a listening ear and encouragement. After cleansing and massaging their feet, the volunteers present each child with a clean pair of socks and a brand new pair of shoes in their size and help the child put them on. For many children, this is the first, non hand-me-down, correct fitting shoes they have ever owned. A hug, a high five, more words of encouragement, and the child is sent on their way with a smile and an assurance that anything is possible for them to achieve. How cool and meaningful is that?
I met Manny at the Buick display during the Media Preview of the Chicago Auto Show. Buick teamed up with Samaritan’s Feet two years ago during the NCAA Final Four as part of their Buick Human Highlight Reel, and have been partners at many events (like the Chicago Auto Show and the Super Bowl) ever since. Many of Buick’s employees– from all ranks– volunteer over an over again to this amazing cause. Said Nick Richards, Communications Group Manager, “I was nervous to help out at first but after talking with the girls and seeing how excited they got, made it all worth it.” Stephanie, who works with Buick’s Marketing Department in Detroit and came to Chicago to be a volunteer at the event said, “I was inspired by Manny’s story. As I watched other employees interact, I was so touched that I wanted to give back too.” At the Chicago Auto Show, Buick volunteers gave out shoes and words of confidence to 200 girls in 2nd through 8th grade..