HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) – A vibrant, energetic 80-year-old woman opened the doors of a small shed in her background. High heels, boots, sandals and sneakers filled the shed where Helen Cary keeps her collection.
“I was watching Oprah one day and a woman on there was giving pajamas to children in need,” Cary said. “And when the program was over I thought, ‘Dear Lord, give me something to do,’ and shoes came to mind.”
That moment 15 years ago was a turning point for Cary. She quickly hired an attorney to help jumpstart her nonprofit, Two Shoes Ministry. It’s been been running strong for more than a decade.
Through the nonprofit, Cary collects and donates new and used shoes to children, families and organizations in need. She has a team of board members who meet once a year.
“I deal big time with the Advocacy Center in Huntsville,” Cary said. “They order from me quite frequently. And I deal with all the school systems here and five different states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky.”
When the pandemic hit, demand slowed down significantly but donations kept coming in. Now, Cary has more shoes to give away than she ever imagined.
“Nobody placed any orders since the pandemic’s been going on,” Cary said. “None of the schools were ordering any.”
The shoes are donated by friends, churches and other nonprofits. Cary also goes out herself and buys new pairs. She then fills orders and takes the shoes to organizations or families who need them.
“All I request in an order is the age, the gender, and the shoe size,” she said. “And they send exactly what I need and I fill the order.”
Cary was the last of seven children. Her family didn’t have much, but she said they lived a good life. She said that’s why she is so passionate about giving back to others.
“I was raised Catholic so I wore saddle oxfords all my life,” Cary said. “And when I graduated from high school, I went to a public college and I bought my first pair of shoes and I’ve been buying shoes ever since then.”
Cary also goes to yard sales in the community to find new and used shoes.
“One church out here had a yard sale and they gave me every pair of shoes and I bet there were over 100 pairs,” Cary said. “People don’t want the shoes after the yard sale so they call me and I’ll go pick them up.”
Cary said she’s had some special, unforgettable moments along the way. One time, she met a young boy at a local center who needed a new pair of boots. Little did she know, it was the first gift he had ever gotten.
“One day I went over there and they had a little boy. He was about nine and he wanted a pair of boots,” Cary said. “So I ran to Walmart and I bought him a new pair of boots and I came back and I gave them to him and he called me Santa Claus. Next time I went in there he said, ‘Santa Claus is here.’ And I walked up to him and I said, ‘Why do you call me Santa Claus?’ He said because ‘Santa Claus gave me the first thing I’ve ever gotten as a gift.’ And I started crying.”
If you or someone you know needs shoes, you can contact Helen Cary’s nonprofit. You’ll then fill out an order form with your shoe size, age and gender.
Two Shoes Ministry contact information: 256-531-6907.
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