Christina Preston chirps cheerful greetings to employees at Girl Scouts Heart of Central California as she navigates a large box of donated shoes to her car. She is the founder of the grassroots Shoes4Sacramento, which collects shoes for a growing number of local causes, including Homeless Connect and Kops N Kids.
Preston, a native Sacramentan who grew up in humble circumstances, was a shy child who thought the future would take her somewhere else. Now she's firmly rooted here. She finds rewards in providing the needy with something so simple yet so important, and inspiring others to do the same.
"I feel more connected," Preston says. "It's strengthening my identity as a person to be a part of a community."
To donate new or gently used shoes, visit shoes4sacramento.com.
Preston began collecting shoes in 2010 to send to international disaster relief efforts. Then it dawned on her. Did people in Sacramento need shoes? She asked around and found that there was a very real need for them. "Why am I sending shoes internationally when there's a local need." She began making posters and networking with people to collect shoes. She brought 500 pairs of shoes to Homeless Connect in 2010. People were in line for them before they were even laid out and the shoes were gone in less than two hours. "There were people in wheelchairs with torn shoes, people looking for shoes for job interviews, women who needed heels for jobs." Every kind of shoe was needed, even flip-flops were needed for the homeless to use while showering at shelters. Thus began her mission.
Preston started with Homeless Connect. Now she is in the midst of collecting shoes for Kops N Kids, a summer mentoring program for low-income children. The program targets kids at risk for gang involvement. Volunteer police and fire personnel play sports with the kids and teach them about leadership, drug and gun avoidance. In the past some kids would show up to the camp without proper footwear, so Preston is partnering with Kops N Kids to provide each child with a pair of shoes. They need 300-400 pairs of shoes; "anything kids can run jump and play in," she said. She is attempting to reach that goal by May 15.
Boys and mens shoes are the hardest for her to collect because men tend to wear their shoes until they are unusable, whereas women will discard barely used shoes once they become unfashionable or no longer to their liking. Cletes, sneakers, tennis shoes. All of these in particular will help the Kops N Kids program. The rest will go to her other causes.
Preston has networked extensively through various outlets throughout Sacramento, especially with the Girl Scouts. She partnered with them to create a Shoes4Sacramento girl scout patch which girls could earn when they donate 10 pairs of shoes. She speaks at troop meetings when asked. She is also collaborating with Mothers Against Drunk Driving on a project.
Above, two friends unload bags of shoes they collected from the Roseville Moose Lodge. "I feel like I'm the middle man," says Preston who is grateful for all the help. "It's not just me. I'm just putting the parts together." She enjoys inspiring others to participate. "I don't think a lot of people feel empowered that they can do anything. I think helping others generally makes people happy."
Preston has a bright future ahead. She will be pursuing a master's degree in community development in the fall with the goal of working in non-profit development.
To donate shoes visit www.shoes4sacramento.com. To suggest a community hero to appear in the I Care column please email Autumn Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.