PITTSFIELD — Like all seniors at Maine Central Institute, Sammy Gachagua is required to do 40 hours of public service during his last year of high school.

So the Kenyan native, who came to MCI on a scholarship in 2009, has set the lofty goal of collecting at least 1,000 pair of shoes during the next few weeks for needy children in his homeland.

“I intern for an organization called Think Kindness and we’ve done a few shoe drives before,” Gachagua said after a school assembly on Wednesday. “But I’ve never done a personally initiated one. The response so far has been amazing.”

Gachagua is vice-president of the Dorm Council and captain of the MCI cross country and track teams, and joked that he’s best known around the community “for my yellow shoes” — his favorites.

Back in his native country, children are required to wear shoes in order to attend school. But most of the 180 kids at the Tumaini Children’s Home, an orphanage near Gachagua’s hometown, don’t have shoes or the means to buy them.

Back in his native country, children are required to wear shoes in order to attend school. But most of the 180 kids at the Tumaini Children’s Home, an orphanage near Gachagua’s hometown, don’t have shoes or the means to buy them.

Gachagua said that he wants to put shoes on every child’s feet at the orphanage “and donate the rest to the surrounding community as well.”

There are labeled bins near several buildings on the MCI campus for shoe donation, and the public can drop them off anytime. All sizes are welcome, but they should be new or “gently used” and tied together so the pairs don’t get separated.

The collection got off to a stellar start, thanks to employees at Mount St. Joseph in Waterville. Angela Bertrand, a nursing supervisor at the holistic care center, said the suggestion was made by coworker and MCI graduate Nicole Neal Farran.

“She originally asked if she could just put a collection box by the time clock. Then the drive just took off,” Bertrand said. “I actually don’t have enough room in my car to pack all the boxes. I think we have about 400 pair.”

Gachagua has also encouraged friendly competition among classes to see who will come up with the most donated shoes. There is also a shoe challenge between MCI and Warsaw Middle School to boost the drive.

“On the first day (of the drive) we had at least 20 pair of shoes, which isn’t a bad start for the middle school kids,” said Warsaw Principal Kristen Gilbert.

After the shoes are collected, the major hurdle will be the cost of shipping them.

“The cost could be as high as $5,000 because they have to be shipped in a container,” Jennifer Beane, MCI’s Director of Communications explained. “So we’ve set up a link on our website for monetary donations as well,” Beane said. The website is www.mci-school.org/give.

A Facebook page — KindnessMCI — has also been set up for the drive. To jump-start the shipping costs, MCI Arts Club adviser Jill Schvartz presented Gachagua with a check for $400 at the assembly from money raised by the students.

There is also a 5-kilometer race and 1-mile fun run on Saturday, May 12, starting at 8:45 a.m. on the MCI campus to help raise money for the project. Registration is $20 in advance or $25 on the day of the race.

Two of Gachagua’s committee members, known as the Kindness Krew, said that his enthusiasm for the program convinced them to help.

“Collecting shoes is a simple task, but it’s so important to the people who need them,” junior Josiah Hernandez said. “The community is really behind us — the town government, the parents, the businesses — everyone. It’s nice to see Sammy doing something he really enjoys.”

Sophomore Courtney Sprague said that being involved with the shoe collection “gives us a sense of accomplishment because we help so many people. I want to see the shoe drive continue, even after Sammy graduates.”

Headmaster Chris Hopkins has known Gachagua since he arrived on campus three years ago.

“What has struck me is that we’re seeing a different side of Sammy now. He was a happy-go-lucky kid with an unbridled laugh,” Hopkins said. “Now, I can see by his words and actions how important this is to him. His motivation is rooted in a deeply-felt need to give back.”

Hopkins said that word of the shoe drive falls right in line with this year’s MCI theme: Leadership.

 


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