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Shoe Tree provides help during holidays

Ten years ago, a worker at a recreation center in Portsmouth took notice of the amount of underprivileged families that used the facilities. Wanting to help these people out and trying to get the center involved, the worker came up with a way of providing one of the simplest needs for people during the holiday season: shoes.

That plan involved a shoe tree. The recreation center began constructing a wooden tree to which people could come and hang new or gently-used shoes. The shoes were then passed along to the Salvation Army, where they would be made available to local children and adults.

The program ran successfully for nine years. Each year, the Portsmouth Department of Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Services collected more than 600 pairs of shoes.

&uot;Everybody started to know about the shoe tree,&uot; said Mickey Hawks, media contact for Portsmouth Department of Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Services. &uot;It doesn’t take a lot of promotion for people in the city to start dropping them off because they know we do it every year.&uot;

This year, oranizers have set a goal of 1,000 pairs of shoes donated within that city alone. They have had the help of Clearchannel Radio, which has done on-air endorsements for the recreation centers.

But to really try and reach as many people as possible within the area, the decision was made to have the shoe-tree movement expand this year to include five other areas in Hampton Roads.

&uot;One of our assistant deputy managers had talked to (Parks and Recreation) and thought it would be a good idea to see if the other cities wanted to start their own shoe tree,&uot; Hawks said.

This year, officials in Isle of Wight County, Chesapeake, Newport News, Virginia Beach, and Suffolk are hosting their own shoe tree drive.

The drive kicked off in Suffolk on Dec. 4 and will continue until Dec. 18.

&uot;Being that its our first year, we just wanted to give a donation,&uot; said LaTanya Turner, media contact for Suffolk’s Department of Parks and Recreation. &uot;We just want to get as many as possible.&uot;

Recreation officials are encouraged by the efforts so far and hope to see more in the coming week.

&uot;So far it’s coming along,&uot; Turner said. &uot;A lot of the people in the city have called my director and said, ‘We’re bringing shoes over.’ Our plan is to have a kind of like celebration when the Salvation Army picks up the shoes on the 20th. We’re really excited about it; we think it’s a good thing to do during the holidays.&uot;

Participating Suffolk Parks and Recreation community centers are located at Booker T. Washington Recreation Center, Creekside Recreation Center, Kings Fork Recreation Center, Mack Benn Recreation Center, Northern Shores Recreation Center, and Oakland Recreation Center. Anyone interested in donating their new or gently-used shoes and slippers, can stop by Monday through Thursday from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

For more information, contact the Suffolk Department of Parks and Recreation at 514-7250.

lauren.wicks@suffolknewsherald.com