A lot of refugee children came over barefoot. An area church stepped up to help

By Leeann Doerflein | Daily Journal
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After learning from volunteers many of the Afghan children at Camp Atterbury came to the United States without shoes, an area pastor stepped into action.

Union Christian Church Pastor Mark Parkinson’s church — and sister church Trafalgar Christian — both took up missions to help the more than 6,600 Afghan refugees being temporarily housed at the National Guard base in southern Johnson County, and have been collecting supplies at their churches.

Union Christian Church officials have made three trips to a donation warehouse near Camp Atterbury with loads of supplies. While Parkinson was there, he spoke with volunteers about the greatest needs, and shoes came up, he said.

“Roughly 40% of the refugees are children and many of them came over barefoot,” Parkinson said. “The ones who have shoes have sandals. Those are OK for the summer, but not for mid-to-late October and winter in Indiana.”

He reached out to Samaritan’s Feet International to order 2,000 pairs of shoes for the children at Camp Atterbury. Having worked with Samaritan’s Feet for a back-to-school shoe drive during his time at a church in Martinsville, Va., he immediately gravitated toward the organization. Samaritan’s Feet is a charitable organization that has provided more than 8 million pairs of shoes to children in 108 countries and 440 U.S. cities.

Parkinson is now tasked with raising $132,000 to pay for the shoes over time. A $20 donation will provide shoes, socks and a tote bag to one child, he said.

Like a pair of shoes gave Samaritan’s Feet founder Manny Ohonme hope 30 years ago, Parkinson hopes the shoes will give hope and a warm welcome to the church’s new neighbors, he said.

Ohonme, who received his first pair of shoes at age 9, was inspired to start the organization due to the feeling of hope that first pair gave him, according to the organization’s website. The organization says the gift of shoes provides hope and opportunity, allows children to focus less on their basic needs and more on school work, and protects against foot-borne diseases.

The shoes are expected to arrive at the church in about two weeks, but the fundraising has already begun. As of Wednesday evening, the church had raised about $1,200 through their online fundraising campaign. Donations can be given online at justgiving.com/fundraising/unionchristianchurch.

Parkinson and the congregation feel called to give because the refugees are neighbors who need help and prayers. Whether neighbors are next door or across the county, the church will collect and, when possible, fulfill prayer requests, he said.

“We have new neighbors 4.5 miles from our church, so we need to do something,” he said.