Four years ago, with Christmas approaching, Ralph Rotella looked out the window of his Discount Shoe Repair, 116 E. Washington St., and saw a man passing by in shoes beyond repair, the leather torn, socks more than peeking through the cracks. He invited the man inside to be fitted for a pair of used, but fully functional shoes.
Rotella related the incident to WZUN-FM 102.1 (Sunny 102) disc jockey Big Mike Fiss, who shared the story on the radio. They received donations of 65 pairs of shoes.
“Then I thought, I should do this every year,” Rotella recalls. “Collect shoes, clean them out, fix them up and give them to the Rescue Mission so they can give them to the people who need them. The first year, I didn’t have a goal, but the second year I wanted 300 or 400 pair. We got 360 pair. Last year, we got over 2,000. This year, the goal is 3,000, and I know we’re going to get it. We might even get 4,000.”
Rotella’s landlord has become involved, giving him a big room in back of the shop to store the shoes. Local media have also become involved, with radio, television and print outlets covering the donation campaign every year.
Rotella has a core of regular donors, growing each year, who drop off their contributions, sometimes garbage bags full. He never sees the people who benefit from the drive, since Rescue Mission staff pick up the shoes and distribute them. They’ll do it Monday, Dec. 16, 9 to 10 a.m.