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‘Soles for Jesus:’ Sussex Hamilton shoe drive benefits those in need in Africa, ‘so grateful for that gift’

Data pix.
Andy Cerroni

Andy Cerroni

SUSSEX -- Shoes are a huge part of the success of athletes, and at Hamilton High School in Sussex, they're a bigger deal for a bigger reason.

"I love doing it for the kids," said Roberta Pratt, sports photographer. "I always say, 'It's all about the kids.'"

"She's giving lasting memories for these kids to live forever," said Andy Cerroni, coach. "I still have shots of my son when he played. Those are priceless. What she's doing is God's work."

Pratt has been a fixture on the sideline for more than a decade, snapping shots of players like senior Lucas Finnessy that they'll never forget.

Roberta Pratt

Roberta Pratt

"She's honestly a hero," said Finnessy.

With foot traffic constant at a Chargers basketball game, donors filled bags during Pratt's fifth shoe drive at Hamilton High School benefiting the nonprofit Soles for Jesus.

"Every year, it's gotten bigger, and everybody's finding more shoes, and filling her up for quite a cause," said Cerroni.

"The last two months, people have been dropping off shoes at my house," said Pratt. "Right now, I have 715 pairs of shoes besides whatever's over there."

Soles for Jesus

Soles for Jesus

"It's incredible, the amount of shoes that they will collect," said Diane Studer, founder and executive director of Soles for Jesus. "That community is incredible."

Studer leads annual trips to Africa, where the shoes are given to those in desperate need.

Diane Studer

Diane Studer

"There was a widow, and I was washing her feet, and she was 72 years old, which is close to the age of my mom, and tears just streamed down her face," said Studer. "This was the first pair of shoes she'd ever received, and she still works in the fields, the hot soil, every day, and she was just so grateful for that gift."

Before the boxes are loaded onto a truck and shipped to Africa, volunteers sort them in a Milwaukee warehouse.

"Sometimes there's a little message in that shoe, a little prayer," said Pratt. "It really gets you."

"When I see these shoes, I see lives because I've been there," said Studer. "You're going to make me tear up, but those are lives. Those are kids that are going to be impacted, and I wish that you could see what a big deal this is for them."

Soles for Jesus

Studer said she, Pratt, and about 20 volunteers planned to head to the Republic of Botswana in May to make a difference.

"You're praying with these people," said Pratt. "We feed them, also. We give them a little booklet of the gospel. They walk out of there with smiles because they don't have shoes."

"It's just awesome we get to change their lives," said Finnessy.

"To get there once a year, and to see the people, to feel the soil, and to be there, it's important," said Studer.

"It touches your heart, your soul," said Pratt.

Soles for Jesus

The shoe drive at Hamilton High school brought in 1,495 pairs of shoes. Every six weeks, Soles for Jesus sends a shipment of 8,000 pairs to Africa. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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