A small army of Movement Mortgage employees, their friends and families recently embarked on a mission to instill hope in the lives of 500 children living in poverty.
They partnered with Samaritan’s Feet International, and crossed the border from California into poverty-stricken Tijuana, Mexico. On a Saturday afternoon, they converged on EastLake Church Tijuana and outfitted hundreds of children with new shoes and socks.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll bring you original photography, a longform story, a documentary-style video and other storytelling features that take you inside this inspirational mission.
To kick it off, here are three short stories from the people who participated in the distribution.
Israel Sanchez, member of EastLake Church Tijuana
As Israel Sanchez began washing the feet of orphaned children at his church, he sensed a trend emerging. Many of them were adamant their shoes were not coming off. They weren’t trying to be difficult, nor were they totally uncomfortable, he says.
They were ashamed.
Several of the children — particularly the ones who lived in orphanages — didn’t have access to size-appropriate shoes or clean water. What they did have were infections and fungi.
Amid the fray, Sanchez met a little girl who rebuffed his attempts to wash her feet. She was reserved, he says, and unwilling to display her feet because they had a fungus. The condition, she told Sanchez, developed from sharing footwear with her brother.
Sanchez urged the girl not to be ashamed. To prove he had no qualms about helping her, he went to a nearby pharmacy, purchased ointment and gave it to the girl to treat her feet.
“I’m amazed we’re able to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” Sanchez says. “It’s a true blessing all around, for the people who are serving” and for the children who are receiving.
“Hopefully, this affects their lives forever.”
Tonda Hall, reaching beyond the language barrier
Some of them were scared. Some of them were ornery. Some of them were crying. But none of that could stop Tonda Hall from bathing the feet of Tijuana’s orphans in a basin of soapy water.
“It doesn’t matter that I can’t speak their language,” says Hall, a Movement market leader in San Diego County, Calif. “Just the faces, getting to wash their feet, watching their reaction to it has been an amazing time today.”
With help from an interpreter, Hall says she held conversations with several children, many of them living in shelters or halfway houses. Some were in their parents’ custody. Hall spoke with the mother of one child who didn’t have enough food to feed her four children, Hall says.
“We didn’t need to talk,” she says. “We just cried and prayed.”
Jamie Hoffman and Ruth Kleyn, shoe smugglers
The call went out, and Jamie Hoffman and Ruth Kleyn answered.
More than 500 pairs of shoes, set to go on the feet of 500 poor children in Tijuana, Mexico needed to make it across the border.
But a few days before the distribution, an organization set to help with carrying the cargo from California into Mexico backed out. Without professional help, volunteers risked unjust seizures by border agents bringing the valuable shoes into Mexico.
When Hoffman and Kleyn — a mother and daughter who are both members of EastLake Church Tijuana and live in Rosarito, Baja California in Mexico — learned volunteers were gathering to bring the shoes to Mexico, they hurried to help.
Once they crossed into San Diego, Kleyn stuffed shoes in the floor storage spaces and compartments of her van and truck. Hoffman stashed about 50 pairs under a bag on the back of her motorcycle — “it was fun,” she says.
They went back-and-forth twice, dropping the shoes off at a parking lot, where other EastLake Church members picked them up and later stowed them away.
“We actually went with props,” Kleyn recalls. “We took two 50 pound bags of dog food, toilet paper, groceries in order to camouflage what we were bringing back.”