February 08, 2023

AHA’s Footwear Drive Nets 466 Pairs of Shoes for Respite Center

While volunteering at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, students from the Academy of the Holy Angels noticed the scarcity of shoes available to people in need. Soon after their 2022 experience, the volunteers advised the AHA community, which responded by donating 466 pairs of sneakers and other footwear during Catholic Schools Week (January 29 through February 4, 2023).


Grace Cuttita of Glen Rock, Breanna Hetzer of Nutley, Jackie LaMastra of Tenafly, Raffaela Manoy of New Milford, Marina Poire of Dumont, Sydney Ponti of Secaucus, Ava Santoro of Old Tappan, and Ava Tripodi of Emerson spearheaded the successful drive. At the end of Catholic Schools Week, the Angels organized and packed the donated shoes with their Texas trip chaperones, AHA Campus Ministry Director/SSND Associate Kathleen Sylvester and AHA Social Studies Department Chair Gail Fair. AHA Campus Minister Maryanne Miloscia also played key role in preparing the shoes for shipping.


The students’ journey to Texas was a Mission Awareness Process trip that allowed them to learn how the School Sisters of Notre Dame (AHA’s foundresses and sponsors) offer support to migrants near the Texas-Mexico border. AHA’s volunteers interacted with migrant families, spent time with the School Sisters who work in the area, and spoke with an immigration attorney. While they volunteered at the Humanitarian Respite Center, the students made sandwiches, washed and dried laundry, colored with the migrant children, and packed clothing bags. When the Angels attempted to fill clothing requests, they knew they had to take action.


“There were some people who asked for a mere pair of shoes that I knew we could not give them because they were low in stock, and it was horrible to write out an order I knew had a slim chance of being delivered,” Marina Poire said after returning from the trip. “Every order told a story of brave travelers, whether they were a lone mother with four children, a young pregnant girl by herself, or a twelve-year-old unaccompanied minor scared to give out their last name…Taking orders made me feel grateful for the life I was given, and even more grateful that I was able to provide this service to someone who needed what I had access to every day.”


After the footwear drive, Poire said, “It feels like a breath of relief to send all these shoes to the Respite Center. It was so sad to see a constantly empty shoe rack at the center since it was the highest in demand there, but I felt happy to help replenish it. Everyone else also felt so pleased sending these shoes to the Respite Center. It made me really happy to help out everyone there, and I wished I could’ve stayed longer.”


Ava Santoro looks forward to continuing to help the Respite Center. “This drive was a really rewarding experience,” she said. “I would definitely consider doing another drive! I think that these drives are so easy to organize and can help so many people!”


Sydney Ponti added, “I am extremely happy to know that the shoes we collected will be helping 466 people. It was so disheartening to have people request shoes and be unable to give them any. Shoes are an essential part of everyday life: whether they’re just used to walk around, to be allowed in stores, or for a job interview. I am glad to know we have been able to help so many people. Shoes were definitely our #1 priority, but maybe in the future we can host a clothing drive, or a toy drive for the kids there.”


Grace Cuttita and Bre Hetzer both described feeling overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude after seeing the response from the Academy’s students, faculty, and staff.


“It feels great to know that this shoe drive will benefit so many people,” Cuttita stated. “A large number of people walk into the Respite Center shoeless or wearing broken shoes. I would love to host more drives like this for shoes, clothing, jackets, etc.”


Hetzer said she was thankful for the overwhelming number of contributions. As a senior, Hetzer acknowledged that she is unlikely to return to Texas with her peers from AHA. She said she would consider organizing volunteer opportunities through her church.


“This is what we’re called to do,” Mrs. Sylvester said of the footwear collection. Sylvester watched the students gain a better understanding of the complexities of the situation at the border, and was there as the Angels discovered the significant need for shoes.


She also knew her group would find a way to make a difference.