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Smokeout a shoe-in: Display makes a statement, then a donation
Penny McCall, from left, Joy Griffin and Angie Caton bundle pairs of shoes Wednesday in preparation for today’s Great American Smokeout. Several local organizations will construct a display of 1,200 pairs of shoes along Downey Boulevard representing the number of tobacco-related deaths each day in the U.S. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Quitting can be hard, but several local organizations hope a special exhibit along Downey Boulevard today will help push people to stop smoking.

The street will be lined with 1,200 pairs of shoes — a pair for each of the 1,200 people who die each day from tobacco-related illness. The exhibit will start at the north entrance of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center and wind toward Jesse Jewell Parkway.

The shoe display is part of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, which serves as a reminder of the serious toll tobacco use takes on the population and urges people to quit.

Local organizations have collaborated to illustrate the 1,200 people who die each day from tobacco-related illnesses on Downey Boulevard in Gainesville.

"It really makes you think," said Joy Griffin, the American Cancer Society community manager for Hall County. "This is a day that we’re trying to reach tobacco users and say, today is the day to quit. This is your day, we want you to quit."

Volunteers will be along Downey Boulevard holding signs from sunrise to sunset to explain what the shoes represent.

The Lanier Georgia Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society, Northeast Georgia Health Systems and Keep Hall Beautiful joined with the American Cancer Society for today’s Great American Smokeout.

"It’s an amazing collaboration," Griffin said. "It has been a real joy to make an impact in our community to stop smoking."

Cindy Reed, the executive director of Keep Hall Beautiful, said the majority of the shoes in the display were collected by Keep Hall Beautiful to donate to Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based nonprofit that donates gently worn shoes to people across the world.

Another 500 pair of shoes were collected by Hall County students and will be donated to Soles4Souls after the Great American Smokeout.

Angie Caton, president of the Lanier Georgia Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society, challenged students at area middle schools to collect shoes for the Great American Smokeout to teach them to the dangers of tobacco use.

"Over half of the cancers we currently have could be almost totally prevented if we did not use tobacco," Caton said.

But the activity was a fun one, too.

"The homeroom that has the most shoes gets a pizza party," Caton said.

Last year was the first year the Hall County groups participated in the Great American Smokeout and Griffin said she hopes to attract even more attention this year.

"It’s raising awareness and that’s what we really want to do," Griffin said. "It’s just so important that our community gets that message."