NORTHAMPTON — It was a summer day in 2017 when Suzannah Fabing of Amherst walked along Main Street in Northampton and passed by Ted’s Boot Shop. She stopped when she saw dozens of children’s shoes displayed on a table outside the store.
After a quick conversation with a store emplyee, Fabing learned that Ted’s was going to stop selling children’s shoes — and that’s when the idea came. She and fellow parishioners of Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst regularly travel to Haiti and donate shoes to school children. It was a perfect match.
“These children in Haiti, by law, have to have shoes to go to school,” Fabing said in a phone interview earlier this month.
Many children in Haiti can’t go to school because they don’t have shoes, Fabing explained.
“They all have to have black, closed-toe shoes,” said John Stifler of Northampton, a member of Grace Episcopal Church.
Fabing explained their service trip to one of the owners of Ted’s Boot Shop, Kathy Hudson. The following spring, the store donated 47 pairs of shoes worth more than $2,000 to the effort.
“I just boxed them up and called her,” Hudson said. “I want to help.”
In September, Ted’s donated 37 more shoes, which made their way to Haiti when Stifler and three other church members delivered them in mid-October.
It is not easy to ship items to Haiti so anything brought needs to be carried, Fabing explained.
“Each of us carried two suitcases,” Stifler said. “One part of my job is to persuade the airlines not to charge us.”
This isn’t the first time that local Valley businesses have supported the church’s missions to Haiti. In 2016, a year after the shoe store Monkey Business in Amherst went out of business, they donated 67 shoes.
Children pass on shoes they’ve outgrown to siblings and cousins, Fabing explained.
“It (the donations) just puts more shoes into the system so more kids can go to school,” Fabing said.
The congregation of Grace Episcopal Church covers all the expenses and supports the school where the children attend in Bayonnais, Haiti. They were inspired to do something by United Nations goals, Stifler said.
Most schools in Haiti are privately owned, require tuition fees, transportation costs, books and mandatory uniforms. These financial barriers make it difficult for Haitians to send their children to school.
“We contributed enough to cover their (the teacher’s) salaries,” Stifler said.
They also contribute to teacher trainings and the building of additional classrooms.
Stifler expressed gratitude about their travels to Haiti and to “be connected so well with (the) needs we can help address.”
“Going to school is a big deal,” Stifler said.