BRASELTON — Three hundred children living in a Colombian orphanage will soon receive almost 500 pairs of shoes, thanks to the efforts of one Braselton resident.
Courtney Piedrahita, 21, along with family friend Rufus Johnson and his service fraternity chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, sponsored a shoe drive on April 27 in Stockbridge.
Expecting to collect only 50 pairs of shoes, Piedrahita said she was floored when the recent drive garnered almost 500 pairs in less than a day.
"I was very surprised and happy," she said.
The collected shoes will be sent to children at the Oscar Scarpetta Orphanage in Cali, Colombia, which helps "boys, girls and youth who are orphaned, abused, abandoned, and in danger situations," according to its Web site. Opened more than 75 years ago, the orphanage now includes a dormitory, church, school, library, soccer field and pool, but still needs help acquiring basic necessities, such as clothes and shoes.
A smattering of new and recently worn footwear, ranging from dress shoes to sneakers, now fills Piedrahita’s garage, awaiting shipment to Colombia.
Kneeling amid a cluster of the donated shoes last week, Piedrahita plucked two toddler-sized, white slip-ons from the bunch and exclaimed, "These are my favorite."
Piedrahita will compete in the upcoming Miss Georgia Scholarship Pageant later this month in Columbus. Her pageant platform, "Building Families, Building Futures," focuses on helping find homes for orphaned children, a campaign that hits close to home.
Helping charities in the U.S. or other countries may not be a new endeavor, but helping this particular orphanage represents both a philanthropic and personal venture for Piedrahita.
Born in Colombia, Piedrahita was adopted by Fred and Melba Piedrahita in 1987 when she was 4 months old.
Fred Piedrahita said the process of adopting his daughter took three months, and he and his wife spent a week in Colombia before bringing Courtney home.
"A lot of kids down in South America at the time even died waiting to be adopted," he said. "So we wanted to make sure she was safe. So we took her home."
Fred’s uncle, a doctor named Jamie Piedrahita, delivered Courtney, and instead of sending her to an orphanage, brought her home to care for her until her adoptive parents arrived.
If this had not happened, Courtney said she would have been placed in the orphanage she is now helping support.
"I realized that if I hadn’t been adopted, I’d still be there," she said.
While the orphanage’s latest request involves shoes, Courtney explained the organization is also in constant need of certain basic necessities that many people in the U.S. cannot fathom living without.
"These kids have no shoes and they’re dirty and they’re wearing clothes that were handed down from the older kids to the younger kids, and they’re eating soup for every meal," she said. "I think just as Americans, in general, we take everything for granted."
For Christmas, Piedrahita and her uncle, Miguel Canch, raised $700 to buy food, Christmas presents and supplies needed to put a roof over the church and orphanage.
With this project and the shoe drive, Piedrahita said she has learned to better appreciate her own little miracle.
"More than anything, it’s been a wake up call to realize how fortunate I have been to be adopted," she said. "Whether they’re children here or children there, they’re still kids that need to be taken care of. And if you have it in your heart and you have the opportunity to help other people, it’s important to do that."
While she will keep helping the children through endeavors enacted in the U.S., Piedrahita said she also wants to spend a summer at the orphanage after finishing nursing school at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.
"I think that it would be really rewarding, and I think I’d really love it," she said.