On Monday morning, 10 Nashville Predators front-office employees from across several departments – from ticket sales and sponsorship to broadcasting and community relations – boarded a plane in Nashville and headed to Miami. Once in South Florida, they grabbed yet another flight toward their final destination – Port-au-Prince, Haiti – where they began their five-day expedition serving the Haitian people with Middle Tennessee-based non-profit Soles4Souls.
Soles4Souls, a global social enterprise committed to fighting poverty through the collection and distribution of shoes and clothing, believes “everyone around the world deserves a good pair of shoes.” The organization was the benefactor of a shoe drive the Preds hosted prior to a game during the 2014-15 season, and while the shoes that were collected in buckets at Bridgestone Arena won’t be the ones being distributed in Haiti (those shoes will be distributed stateside), the premise is the same: shoes donated by individuals and organizations get put on the feet of those in need.
For the next week as the Preds team travels around Haiti, keep checking back to this post for a daily recap with news of what they’ve been up to and photos from the day. After they return, be sure to keep an eye out for a full video recap of their journey to the Pearl of the Caribbean, only at NashvillePredators.com.
Day One (by Rebecca King, Senior Director of Community Relations)
Day One is in the books after our alarms went off in Nashville at 3:22 a.m. and we arrived at our hotel in Haiti at 8 p.m. following a long day of travel. The trip was uneventful and we were able to arrive safe and sound with all of our bags - which were all packed full with school supplies, toys, soccer balls, toiletries, matchbox cars, basketballs, ball pumps, t-shirts and more. Over half of the luggage the team took along with us were items we brought to hand out at our visits.
After getting a first look at the “chicken match” that is driving in Haiti, we were able to sit and eat an amazing local meal of chicken legs, rice and beans with an onion broth, green beans, beetroot and plantains halfway through our trip from the airport to the hotel where we’ll stay for the week. Following our meal, the group was able to hear from a woman who uses Soles4Souls microenterprise system. Through use of the microenterprise system, she has been able to purchase her own house, feed her three children and send them to school. In addition to this woman, we heard from several other local Haitians that have been directly impacted by the work of Soles4Souls in the country.
When we reached the hotel, we met with Soles4Souls representatives that we’ll be working with and what tasks each person will be doing at the sites where the shoes will be distributed - some will be washing feet, some sizing kids and some running shoes to be handed out.
We’re excited for the job at hand - giving shoes to children - but what we’re really excited about is getting to hang out and play with the kids. We brought along so many soccer balls and basketballs (with pumps to leave behind) and we can’t wait to put them to good use.
The real adventure begins tomorrow when we depart at 8 a.m. to pick up more than 300 shoes and then head to our first distribution location.
Day Two (by Kristen Finch, Manager of Community Relations)
Our first day of shoe distribution is officially in the books!
We left our hotel around 8:30 a.m. and went to a home where all the shoes for the distributions are stored until groups like ours come to town. We loaded up our van full of boxes of shoes ranging in all sizes we might need for the day and then we were on our way to distribute.
When the residents see our big bus coming, they know we are there to distribute something and they line the streets with their big waves and smiles. These kids have stolen my heart for sure!
Our first school was a learning experience for everyone as we figured out the flow of how kids come through to be sized and fitted. There were three main jobs today at both locations we went to: foot sizer (which I was able to do first!), fitter and shoe runner. As the sizer, I was one of the first to greet the kids. Next, they would go to be fitted for their new shoes and be on their way. When you would say “new shoes” to them after they received their shoes, the smiles and light on their faces made you realize the reason why we are all down here - being able to provide a good pair of shoes to people who walk miles everyday.
At the second school we visited, it really stood out to me how much the students minded their leaders and teachers and were extremely respectful and polite. The kids even had a song to welcome us as we arrived!
After another delicious local Haitian meal of rice and beans, fried plantains and fried goat (yes, I said goat and yes, I tried it and took more than one bite…), we were able to relax a bit and get ready for the next two days!
Day Three (by AJ Rockwell, Ticket Sales Account Executive)
Bonjou! We woke up to the hottest and most humid day in Haiti so far and after a breakfast of fresh fruit, spaghetti (yes, spaghetti), bacon, pancakes, eggs, french toast and rice, we headed to our full days work, beginning with our first school at 8:30 a.m.
To get to the first school, we traveled for about an hour and ended up in a small community along the coast that was full of children. Today was the first day we cleaned the kids feet’ with water and then paired them with their new set of shoes. There has been no better feeling than to see the young kids’ faces and their beautiful smiles when they receive their shoes.
This was also the first site where we were able to play sports and have full interaction with the community. We played soccer, children’s games and some of our staff painted the girls’ fingernails with polish, which was a big hit!
Our next stop for the day was a second school site about an hour away. Here we sized the kids and laced them up with new shoes. We distributed more than 300 pairs of shoes today, but there were still hundreds with needs that we couldn’t meet. It’s been hard to see families asking for shoes or a simple t-shirt from us, but the demand is so overwhelming compared to the limited resources we have.
After a traditional Haitian lunch, we headed to an orphanage called Feeding Hope where we were able to feed and play with the kids and it was one of the best groups yet! We all had three or four kids hanging on to us as they all wanted to be loved and played with; it was such an awesome and touching moment.
As tired as we are after a long day’s work, I just think about those kids and the living conditions they are experiencing and my worries don’t seem that important anymore. This trip has been life changing and I am even more thankful to live in the States than I ever have been before. As my Haitian friends say, Orevwa!
Day Four (by Marty Mulford, Senior Director of Ticket Sales)
I woke up on Thursday morning disappointed it was our last distribution day in Haiti. When we arrived at Karenard School, there were nearly 200 kids waiting for us as we jumped off the bus with boxes of shoes. As you can imagine, with it being our fifth distribution, we were like a well-oiled machine and between sizing, fitting (which I did) and the runners bringing us the correct sizes, we were able to move through these kids quickly and successfully finish another distribution. I received more first-bumps and the prettiest, most genuine smiles I’ve had in a long time, which truly makes it all worth it; complete happiness from something as simple as a new pair of shoes, an item that each of us have at least 10 of, if not more.
After first meeting with Soles4Souls eight months ago, helping set up the first Preds staff trip and decide on the location of the trip, I started reading and watching videos about Haiti, its people and unfortunately, the massive earthquake that shook much of the country in 2010. Although there are beautiful mountain views, crystal clear oceans and great food, I saw despair, complete ruin in parts, and living conditions that were hard to believe actually existed until I saw them this week with my own eyes. These living conditions and ruin causes more problems than we can understand, but even with all of that, I have met so many nice people, people who couldn’t be happier with life and thankful for what they have. I could go on and on about the awesome, selfless work of the people we met, but the biggest thing I’ve learned from them and the trip as a whole is even though things or situations appear insurmountable, you can only do what you can. I feel people always want to fix everything (me included), but just doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all.
This trip has given all of us involved the opportunity to look into the eyes of the children we are giving shoes to, hold their hands and see their nervousness when they first sit down, followed by their happiness when that first shoe slides perfectly onto their foot. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, the hard fist bump and smile became the universal language for us.
Overall, this trip has been incredible - I’ve had the chance to experience something very special, not only with my wife (who joined us on the trip), but with 10 of my co-workers, which will no doubt link us together moving forward. I’m already looking forward to many more trips in the future.