Youngster with sole collects thousands of pairs of shoes

Students at Lake Shore Elementary received a handout Monday asking them to bring used shoes to one of three local fire stations, which shocked third-grader Teagan Wigginton.

Wigginton, 9, was surprised because she didn't know the fire stations were collecting shoes for the shoe drive — a drive she started in November 2013 with a goal of collecting 25,000 pairs of shoes for global nonprofit Soles4Souls to give to kids in need.

After a slow start to the drive, Wigginton's project has taken off, thanks to some help from a few local businesses and organizations. She's on pace to surpass her goal this week, and as of Monday, had collected more than 23,000 pairs of shoes.

"I didn't think I'd get it this fast," she said. "I'm really excited and happy."

While the drive started more than a year ago, a bulk of the donations came in recent months. First, Birkenstock Northwest in Ridgefield joined the drive after owner Brian Haberman read about Wigginton's efforts in The Columbian in January 2014.

Wigginton and the store teamed up to collect more than 17,000 pairs of shoes, mostly since last summer, after Soles4Souls sent a 53-foot trailer to Birkenstock to house the donations. The trailer is still in the store's lot, and the store will accept donations even after the goal is met.

The final push to reach 25,000 shoes came last month, when Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver joined the drive after the Rev. Daniel Fusco heard about the project at Birkenstock. The church started collecting shoes for Wigginton; as of Monday, a mountain of shoes more than 6 feet tall stood in the Crossroads lobby. Wigginton said there are at least 7,000 pairs there. The church is continuing to collect shoes until Easter.

"She wants to change kids' lives," said the Rev. Jason Ritchie of Crossroads. "We wanted to be a part of it and thought it was really cool of Teagan to do this."

Fire District 6 Chief Jerry Green heard about the drive from the church and decided to help, placing bins outside of fire stations on Northeast Hazel Dell Avenue, Lakeshore Avenue and 134th Street. The fire stations are collecting shoes until April 17.

"The response has been pretty positive," Green said. "We think she's doing a great thing and want to help her out."

Wigginton said it's a bit hard to keep up with all the donations now that they're coming in much faster and to multiple locations. It's quite different than the early days of the drive, when she was asking for donations from friends and family, who in turn would ask their friends and family to donate to the drive.

As of June, Wigginton had collected about 3,000 pairs of shoes. And with nowhere to bring them, the shoes were placed in plastic bags and left in the garage, said Ashley Carper, Wigginton's mother.

"It was pretty discouraging at first," Carper said. "It was just going really slow, and we asked places to help us and be drop-off points, but we got turned away."

With the goal in sight, Wigginton said she wants to keep collecting shoes and donate even more than she hoped. Through Soles4Souls, the donations will go to people in need in both third-world countries and in the United States.

Wigginton got the idea after seeing a short documentary on Disney Channel called "The Time I ..." about a girl who asked for shoes for her 7th birthday to send to kids in Guatemala.

"It made me want to help people," Wigginton said. "I know lots of kids don't have a lot of shoes, and a lot of kids do have lots of shoes. It's not fair. It would be fair if all kids had shoes."

Carper said she thinks her daughter will keep helping people even after she stops collecting shoes.

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