My teen daughter asked for 17,000 pairs of shoes. Why I said yes.

This past November, my husband and I adopted our Mackenzie from foster care. She was only six months away from her 18th birthday and had spent more than half her life in the care of the state.

"Mom, we need to do something to show people the magnitude of foster care in Arizona. Most people can't even picture 17,000 kids, much less understand just how many of us there are," Mackenzie said one day, out of the blue.

"Let's create a video. We can get 17,000 pieces of candy or something and give people a visual."

Mackenzie knows too much about foster care. She lived in 26 "placements," which she says is really "just a dressed up way of saying I left everything and everyone behind 26 times in my life."


She has had so many "homes" that it took her several tries to remember them all.

"When I moved in with you," Mackenzie confided to me, "I didn't believe anything you told me. You told me you were buying me a phone so that I could call you in an emergency. I didn't believe that. You told me that you would buy me decent clothes. I didn't believe that. You said all these things, and I didn't believe any of it because that's just not what it's like in foster care. I'd never lived anywhere with people like you."

At this point, our conversation turned to shoes and hoodies. Busted, outgrown shoes and threadbare hoodies. The unofficial uniform of foster care.

When our daughter first came home to us, weeks before her "sweet 16" birthday, she had one pair of shoes. A pair of old, dirty, split-down-the-sides tennis shoes. Her lone pair of shoes were split in all the right places. The growth spots. They were split around the outer edges of the balls of her feet and around the bend of her heel and on the inner edging and on the tops of her big toes. They were a full two and a half sizes too small.

Mackenzie wore this pair of shoes on her first visit to meet her forever family (that's us) for the first time with a very pretty size-too-small dress. She wore this pair of shoes to church. She wore this pair of shoes to school. She wore this pair of shoes everywhere because it was all she had.

Our daughter did not come to us straight from a home charged with neglect. She came to us after nearly a decade in the care of state-supported foster homes who were responsible for meeting her basic needs. Yet, she had only one pair of shoes that did not fit.

The second time Mackenzie was placed with us, she had no shoes.

After being moved from our home, she lived for several months in a group home where conditions were so bad that she risked life and limb to hitchhike back to us.

Mackenzie appeared on our doorstep with her size 10 feet stuffed into size 7 sandals. It looked incredibly painful, but she swore she just borrowed these sandals because she liked them. Later, we learned that she no longer had any shoes, and the group home had done nothing about it.

She was going to school every day with bare feet. A few times, teachers asked why she was not wearing her shoes, and she told them, "I don't have shoes." When they asked why not, she replied, "I live in a group home." That was always where the conversation ended.

"If I lived with my birth parents and came to school with no shoes every day, they would have called the Hotline to report neglect, but no one calls to report neglect or abuse on a CPS group home," our daughter explained matter of factly. "They just expect it and ignore it."

After nearly a decade of this treatment, when Mackenzie arrived in our home the first time, she did not believe our promise to buy her new shoes. Shoes that she did not ask for because she did not expect to receive them. She was appreciative to just be in a home, far from the violence and instability and drama of the modern day orphanages that we call "group homes."

When she arrived the second time, Mackenzie knew she was finally coming home to safety, stability, love, and shoes.

Mackenzie did live in one good home, once upon a time. We want to acknowledge that, and she acknowledges it with gratitude often. L & G, you know who you are. You had a profound, positive effect on our daughter's life.

Almost every foster child who has come into our home from another foster home has had only one pair of busted, ill-fitting shoes. Most of these children could put fingers through the holes in their shoes. One child, after our first shopping trip, showed us how two fingers would fit through the bottom of the single pair of shoes that this child had arrived with.

In this moment of recollection, it dawned on us. Shoes. Mackenzie could create her video with shoes. Then, the shoes could be donated to foster children.

Foster children need shoes. Good shoes. Shoes that fit. Shoes that they are proud to wear with a pretty dress or a Sunday suit or with a favorite pair of jeans. Shoes that are good enough to join a sports team. Shoes that give a kid confidence to make friends at a new school when moving from home to home.

What better visual to show people just what 16,990 kids in foster care truly looks like than 16,990 pairs of empty shoes laid out in rows?

So, my daughter asked for 16,990 pairs of shoes. One to represent every child in Arizona foster care.

What better gift to a child who has no stable home, no family, and no shoes.

True

Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

On February 19, 2020, a group of outdoor adventurists took a 25-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. During the trip, they had no cell service and no contact with the outside world. When they ended they ended their journey on March 14, the man who pulled them ashore asked if they had been in touch with anyone else. When the rafters said no, the man sighed, then launched into an explanation of how the globe had been gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and everything had come to a screeching halt.

The rafters listened with bewilderment as they were told about toilet paper shortages and the NBA season being canceled and everyone being asked to stay at home. One of the river guides, who had done these kinds of off-grid excursions multiple times, said that they'd often joke about coming back to a completely different world—it had just never actually happened before.

The rafters' story was shared in the New York Times last spring, but they're not the only ones to have had such an experience.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
True

The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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