On a Sunday morning, Miami fitness trainer Gabriel Varona waited outside a gym to teach a class, when he caught a homeless man inside of a dumpster searching for shoes.
“I asked him what size he was and he told me he was a size 11, which is my size,” Varnona said. “I gave him the shoes straight off my feet.”
Soon after, Varona heard a message from his pastor expressing how important it was to help others in need. That’s when it hit him and he decided to start the nonprofit organization Shoes for Streets.
“I feel blessed to have the resources to organize these donations,” said Varona, who has also competed professionally in mixed martial arts. “Their reaction to receiving a single pair of shoes is what keeps me going. It's just one of many things we take for granted, but means so much to them.”
The weekend before Christmas, Shoes for Streets and its volunteers handed food, shoes and toys for children in the areas of Wynwood and downtown Miami. The organization collected more than 1,000 pairs of shoes. M Cycle gym in South Miami also helped raise $2,000, which bought over 500 meals to distribute to those less fortunate. Toys were also distributed at Chapman Partnership Homeless shelters in Miami.
“We are blessed,” she said. “It is great to give back to those in need.”
Camillus House resident Kevin Brown waited patiently to grab a pair of Crocs shoes. He has back issues because of an injury and is disabled.
“It feels real nice,” he said. “It lets me know that people do care about us,” said Brown who once battled with drugs. “It’s hard for me to put socks because of my back. It is a blessing. There are people out there who care and these people are living proof.”
Varona stared the nonprofit in September. Donations have come through family, friends, social media followers and community efforts. His efforts don’t stop. Sometimes he’ll give away shoes during his workday.
“Sometimes I'll stop in the middle of my day if I catch someone on the street without shoes,” he said. “Most weeks I collect to distribute on Sundays. For larger events, I plan at least two weeks in advance.”
Marta Ojeda’s house was foreclosed and she had to throw away most of her belongings. She is grateful for the shoes, t-shirts and meals she received from the distribution.
“I had to leave everything and throw away everything,” Ojeda said. “This helps a lot.”
Varona’s mission is to keep going. “I want to make sure there is not one person in need of shoes,” he said.