I love shoes. That may sound weird in several ways. I mean, who really cares one way or the other about shoes? Especially when you are a man who writes and performs in sock puppet shows. You would think that you would only have room in your heart for one type of footwear.
So let me explain. I prefer to wear shoes, pretty much all day. I like to wear my shoes in the house, in the yard, and certainly when going out. You see I have flat feet. Not just any flat feet, I have exceptionally flat feet. My arches are nearly non-existent. So walking around without shoes for too long means I have really sore feet. Hence, my vast appreciation for shoes. At least for my shoes. On my feet.
But today I got a chance to admire shoes, many, many shoes, in another light. And while it has left my feeling for shoes unchanged, it has opened my eyes to what the shoes represent.
We are in Greece, staying outside of Athens. As many people know, Greece has accepted more Syrian refugees than any other nation in Europe. At first, the refugees came to Greece, passed through, and continued on to other nations that announced that they would accept them. But one by one, those other nations have closed their borders. And still, thousands of people arrive in Greece.
Greece has not shut them out. I imagine it would be difficult to do even if they wanted to, with so much coastline. But Greece doesn't even want to shut them out. The Greek people feel it is right to help them. Good for you, Greece.
What does this have to do with shoes, Erich? I'm getting there.
There are many shelters in Greece housing the Syrian refugees. Some are near the borders with other nations. Some are near Athens. One is at an old Olympic football stadium. And next to that is an old Olympic basketball stadium. And that's where I sorted shoes.
This basketball stadium has become a drop off point for donations to help the refugees. And again, to praise the Greeks, they wholeheartedly are trying to help. Boxes and bags of clothing and other goods are dropped off everyday. What's more, entire truckloads from other nations arrive at this stadium and get unloaded and left.
But there is almost no one there to handle all these goods coming in. And so, they depend on volunteers. They need people, no experience necessary, to come and help with the sorting of items, boxing them up, and even just discovering what is in some of the boxes.
Today, our family headed to that stadium. Alrica sorted scarves and socks and t-shirts. But Carver and I (and later Syarra too) headed to the back of the stadium and sorted shoes.
There are piles and piles of donated shoes. Some of them, but very few, are in terrible condition and must just be thrown away. But most are in fine condition to be given to refugees. However, they are in a jumble. One has to pick through the shoes, find their pairs, and then sort them and box them up.
We sorted shoes by size (the European sizes) and by men's shoes vs. women's shoes. When a box of a particular size and gender was full, it had to be taped up, labeled, and stacked. And then a new box went into that place and the fun began again.
You can't effectively distribute items if you can't find the right size of the right item at the right time. And that is what they need help in doing. Sorting items so that they can be given out.
It was a good day. We were happy to help and the staff and volunteers who have been there for weeks now were lovely to us.
If anyone wants to help the Syrian refugees in Greece, don't send more clothing or toiletries. The best donations are food or money. If you are in Greece and have time to give, that too is desperately needed. And you don't need to come in with any skills. Even if you couldn't read numbers, you could still help to find the pairs among the shoes.
I hope that the work we did today will help some people in the shelters in Greece. Because if I were in their situation, if I were facing desperation and stuck in what seemed like a dead end for I don't know how long, I would be stressed, miserable, and at times, angry. But I know one thing. I would feel even worse without a good pair of shoes.