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Pennsylvania Girl Sends Shoes to Children of Afghanistan

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2005 – Sometimes it takes a look from a different perspective to realize that Americans take much for granted.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
(From left) Kelsey Barner, Erica Gaussa, Taylor Barth, Nicole Hockenbury and Michael Gaussa, all members of a youth group at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, pose for a photo with shoes they've collected to ship to Afghanistan. The kids, at the urging of 11-year-old Taylor, collected just over 300 pairs of "gently worn" shoes. Courtesy photo by Danise Pruzinsky

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Taylor Barth, a sixth grader from Murrysville, Pa., got a glimpse of a different perspective from a friend, U.S. Army. Capt. Kevin Higgins. Higgins told Taylor about Afghan children he saw who didn't have some things considered part of everyday life here.

"My friend Kevin Higgins said that the children there had no shoes and I should try to do something about it," Taylor said. "We have all this kind of stuff, like great kinds of shoes and stuff they don't. And they should have the chance to have those kinds of great things."

Taylor, 11, wanted to do something to help, and suggested sending used shoes to Afghanistan.

"It was a small idea. at first it was just Kevin felt bad that he saw these kids barefoot and he mentioned it to her," Taylor's grandmother, Barb Barth, said. "She said, 'Grandma, can I mail my old shoes to him?' So we e-mailed him and asked him, and he said he would love it," Barth said.

Higgins was thrilled with the idea, she said.

Taylor started collecting shoes from her friends and her own home. She bought other shoes that were "in good use" from a local thrift shop.

She didn't stop there. An active participant in the Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church's youth group, she told her peers about her plan to send shoes to Afghanistan.

"(Taylor) came into youth group one day and we had some prayer request time," said Danise Pruzinsky, the youth director for the church. "She brought up this situation and told the kids she was sending some of her shoes from home over and asked if anybody else would want to do it.

"They just started talking and looked at me, and I said, 'Well, you could ask the whole church if you wanted to,'" she said.

And that's just what happened.

The administrative board at the church approved of the plan, but said she'd have to wait until after the holiday season. When the holidays ended, Taylor addressed her congregation during Sunday services. According to Pruzinsky, each of the two services draws approximately 250 people. That didn't faze Taylor, though.

"I knew they wouldn't criticize my idea 'cause we were in church," she said.

Pruzinsky said the whole middle school youth group pitched in and decorated collection boxes, handed out fliers and helped pack up the shoes they collected.

"They just all felt like they were part of it," she said. "They brought in shoes; they told their friends; (and) people in the community found out by word of mouth.

"We had people actually send in checks to help pay for the shipping," Pruzinsky said.

The collection officially ended Feb. 13. Pruzinsky said Taylor had hoped to get 50 pair of shoes.

She was in for a surprise. "We finished collecting the shoes last Sunday and we collected 288 pairs of shoes," Taylor said

Even after packing 22 boxes of shoes, the project wasn't finished. The youth group spent one of their meetings filling out customs forms.

Now the shoes are on their way to Afghanistan. The other 14 pair of shoes that Pruzinsky received at the church Feb. 16 will have to be sent separately.

When they get there, they don't go from the box to the children, Taylor said.

"(The soldiers) hand them to the elders of the village and then the elders pass them out to the children," she said, adding that Higgins will have to pass off his shoebox duties. "He's going to leave (Afghanistan) soon, but we sent (the shoes) to another soldier that was there," Taylor said.

Taylor has always shown leadership qualities, Pruzinsky said. So her decision to help the children of Afghanistan was not surprising. "I was just shocked at ... her persistence and her willingness to just keep going," Pruzinsky said.

Grandma's reaction was a bit more sentimental.

"I am just really proud of her," Barth said. "I'm really glad that (the youth group) thought of people they're never going to meet. It was a good connection. She's learned a lot about the world through Kevin, and I think it's enriched her life, too."

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