HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (11/13/12) – At the age of 6 a child is starting to become more independent, and is also becoming more aware of the world around them. That being said, when asked what they want for their birthdays, most 6-year-old children would still be quick to respond with a list of toys they would like as presents, or their favorite flavor of birthday cake.
Not Madisonville resident Jasmine “Jazzy” Larkins. Jazzy graciously requested something much different for her 7th birthday, which took place on June 9th earlier this year.
“I ask my kids about a month before their birthdays every year what kind of party and presents they want,” says Stephanie Larkins, Jazzy’s mother. “This year I was asking Jazzy what she wanted, and she said ‘I don't want presents this year. I want to donate 101 pairs of shoes to kids that don't have shoes.’ I was nearly in tears when I realized she was being serious.”
Previously, Jazzy had been watching a children’s program on television that ran a story about a young girl who had done something similar for her birthday. The little girl on the program had collected birthday donations in the form of shoes for a children’s school in Africa. The child’s community helped her collect 101 pairs of shoes towards her cause.
“Children in parts of Africa aren't allowed in school without shoes,” explains Stephanie. “This story touched Jazzy and she wanted to help too.”
From there, Stephanie researched different charities that could fulfill Jazzy’s birthday wish. During her search she came across a charity called Soles4Souls.
As detailed on their website “Soles4Souls collects new shoes to give relief to the victims of abject suffering and collects used shoes to support micro-business efforts to eradicate poverty.”
Soles4Souls has been helping those in need since 2004 when founder Wayne Elsey helped to procure a quarter of a million pairs of shoes to victims of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia that year. Months later, Hurricane Katrina hit U.S. shores and Elsey helped collect over a million pairs of shoes to give to people in the affected gulf coast communities. With such an outpouring of support, Elsey decided to create a nonprofit group so that he could continue to help those in need. In 2005 Soles4Souls became an official charity.
“They do wonderful things for people all over the world,” says Stephanie. “Their world headquarters is in Tennessee. This means Soles4Souls is close enough we can personally deliver the shoes ourselves.”
After Stephanie contacted Soles4Souls, she started a Facebook event page to help obtain shoe donations and set up four donation boxes in different locations for Jazzy. Drop boxes were placed in Henderson, Hopkinsville, Madisonville, and Owensboro.
Friends and family blasted Facebook with the information and word traveled quickly. Stephanie and her family were amazed at the flood of support they received.
Hudson Toyota of Madisonville was touched by Jazzy’s efforts and offered up their help. Hudson Toyota not only offered to be an additional collection point for donated shoes, but they also offered those dropping shoes off complimentary tickets to a Tradewater Pirates baseball game at Elmer Kelley Stadium. Furthermore, Jazzy threw the first pitch of the game while eighteen of her family members cheered her on from the stands.
“It was so much fun,” says Stephanie. “After she threw the pitch the catcher walked up, gave her high five, and then gave her an autographed ball. She said, ‘look Mom, now I have my very own baseball’. I said, ‘look the whole team signed it’, and she looked at me wide eyed and said, ‘I think I may faint’,” laughed Stephanie.
Jazzy’s shoe request not only touched hearts in Western Kentucky, but all across the United States as well.
Stikii, a shoe company based out of Toledo, OH, was so touched by Jazzy’s story that they contacted the Larkins family so that they too could donate shoes towards the cause.
“Jazzy has inspired us to get involved with other shoe drives to help those in need,” says Stikii’s Director of Business Development Hal Yaffe. “In the history of Stikii she will always be our first charity shoe drive.”
In total, an astonishing 324 pairs of shoes were donated in Jazzy’s name to those in need. Jazzy surpassed her goal by 223 pairs of shoes. The response from our local communities was truly remarkable.
Soon after collecting this generous donation from the community, Stephanie and her two daughters packed a borrowed pathfinder full of shoes and drove them down to the Soles4Souls headquarters in Nashville.
“Nicole Langford, from Donor Services, gave us a tour of the facility while teaching the kids about how many people there actually are who don’t have shoes,” says Stephanie. “1.5 billion people in the world don’t have shoes.”
While Stephanie and her daughters were being given the grand tour, they got a chance to meet some of the organizers in charge of the Clothes4Souls sector of the nonprofit organization. Stephanie’s older daughter Lilly decided right then and there that she wanted to donate clothes for her next birthday to the organization.
“I have two super sweethearts,” laughs Stephanie.
Soles4Souls recently made Jazzy their Rockstar Donor of the week and Jazzy continues to inspire the surrounding communities. Sometimes even the smallest of us can make an amazingly large impact. Knowing that children in our community have hearts as large as Jazzy’s is a comfort. Indeed, the future is bright. Altruism is precious.
Sugg Street Post