- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS | Last year, IUPUI’s Ron Hunter was the only basketball coach to go barefoot on the sideline during an effort to collect shoes for needy children around the world.

This year, hundreds of foot soldiers have joined the cause.

Samaritan’s Feet, the Charlotte, N.C.-based nonprofit organization that distributes the shoes, said more than 300 youth, high school and college coaches have pledged to coach one game barefoot and collect shoes around Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 19.

Butler’s Brad Stevens, South Dakota State’s Scott Nagy, University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Matt Brown, Indiana State’s Kevin McKenna and Detroit’s Ray McCallum are among the Division I coaches who will go shoeless, the organization said.

“I truly appreciate that, and I wish I could thank every one of them,” said Hunter, who will go shoeless Jan. 17 against Centenary. “So many have called. I’m very pleased that they are willing to help.”

Hunter coaches at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a partnership between Indiana and Purdue Universities.

Samaritan’s Feet called him last season to ask him to go barefoot for one game to help collect 40,000 pairs of shoes. By tipoff of that January home game against Oakland (Mich.) the tally stood at 140,000 pairs.

This year, the overall goal of Samaritan’s Feet is to collect 1 million pairs.

“There are hundreds of shoe drives going on across the country,” Samaritan’s Feet spokesman Todd Melloh said. “We’ll take what we can get. Every shoe we raise makes some difference in the U.S. or elsewhere.”

The mission hit home for Hunter in July when he delivered some of the shoes he helped collect to children in Peru.

“When I left Peru, I knew that I had to continue to do this,” he said. “The tears on the kids’ faces that I saw that we couldn’t help were enough to say that I will do this for the rest of my lifetime.”

Hunter said he won’t mind the discomfort of going shoeless for a few hours because many of the people in other nations use shoes as their primary mode of transportation.

“The children that have to go barefoot every day don’t prepare for it,” he said. “It’s a part of life.”

Nagy said it was easy to agree to go barefoot for South Dakota State’s Jan. 23 home game against North Dakota State because his adopted daughter, 5-year-old Naika, is from Haiti. He visited her village three years ago before the adoption became official.

“I’ve seen from personal experience what many of those kids are going through,” he said.

Nagy’s goal is to collect 500 pairs of shoes during a drive that will end Feb. 1. He said Naika doesn’t fully understand what he’s doing, but she appreciates it.

“She’s as excited about it as she can be,” he said.

Melloh said there will be a greater emphasis this year on delivering shoes domestically since the economy is struggling. Samaritan’s Feet will conduct two major shoe distributions totaling 1,000 pairs in Indianapolis on Jan. 19.

Hunter’s decision to become the first coach to go barefoot got national attention. He recently was selected an ABC News person of the year.

It also changed the profile for Samaritan’s Feet. Melloh said the charity is building a library in the African nation of Malawi and sending food to 1,500 South African children this year.

“It has led to other projects,” he said. “We’ve got more resources, more partners. It’s been a tremendous springboard and platform to do that.”

Hunter’s home and workplaces have become shoe warehouses.

“Between my secretary or my wife, I don’t know who gets more mad,” he said. “We get the shoes at school. We get them at my house. Shoes continue to come. I don’t know if I’ve had a day that I have not received shoes.”

Hunter said the shoes are a symbol of something greater.

“It’s a message about hope,” he said. “When we came [to Peru], we brought a little hope to them that things aren’t sometimes as bad as they seem.”

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