"I am a School Nurse at **** Elementary. We have a large homeless population in our area. Many of our students come to school with old or near-broken footwear. Often we have to duct tape it to get them through the day and they continue to wear the duct taped footwear due to no other options at home. It would be nice to have a supply of footwear available for those children in need.”
Can you imagine not having enough money to buy your kid a new pair of slippers?
When Alyn Vasquez Dela-Cerna received that email a couple of weeks ago, her heart sank. As the founder of The Slippah Foundation, it’s her mission to get slippers to kids. But this time she couldn’t. She’d run out, simple as that. And there was no money to buy any more.
Alyn Vasquez Dela-Cerna a.k.a. The Slippah Lady
Have you heard of The Slippah Foundation?
It’s exactly what the name implies—a charity for local folks. She and a few volunteers collect donations to buy slippers and then distribute them to kids and adults in need.
I knew her when she first started out in 2005-- a single mom living in public housing. Despite her own hardships she was thinking of the children in the housing complex.
“I was living at Mayor Wright Housing,” she says. “And I saw about a dozen boys playing football and they didn’t have footwear. And living in the housing get all kind rubbish you know, needles and everything.
“At that time I was living on Social Security. And I said, if I had money I would buy them footwear.”
Alyn often posted on a local Internet forum called Hawaii Threads. The topic one day was, “What do you want for Christmas?”
Blaine Fergerstrom, then a reporter for the Honolulu Star Bulletin, wrote in his original 2005 article:
“The usual suggestions followed: a new job; a laptop computer; world peace; motorcycle; underwear; kitchen appliances; gift cards.”
Then Alyn posted this:
"I wish for all the children of (Mayor Wright) to have a pair of rubber slippers so they won't have to go barefoot."
That selfless wish kicked off a little explosion of activity. Forum members jumped to help. Sue Larkin, organized, collected money and found wholesalers willing to sell at or near cost. Alyn went door to door at the complex, recording names and shoe sizes.
That year, all the kids at Mayor Wright Homes got brand new slippers.
Fergerstrom, the reporter, went above and beyond his journalistic job description.
“Yeah, I helped Alyn out in the early days,” he explains. “I was working at the Bulletin and wrote a story about the first ad-hoc slippah drive and helped her get set up as a 501 because all the donations were being sent through my personal account! Yikes!”
Fergerstrom, who still owns and runs the website, says
they were amazed when the project took off.
“We were astonished at day one!” he recalls.
And it only got bigger and better.
“The second year,” Alyn says, “we had enough money to include two other public housing. The third year I had enough slippers to give to shelters.”
By the fourth year they had to become a foundation
Today, more than a decade later, Alyn no longer lives at Mayor Wright. She’s married, employed and her children are all grown up and doing well.
Although her own fortunes have risen she’s still dedicated to her cause.
But she’s worried. The donations are drying up, Alyn says, just when the need is greatest. That’s why she can’t buy slippers for the kids at that elementary school.
That email from the school nurse tells me that Alyn is right to be worried. It may be hard to wrap your head around the fact that families can’t afford slippers—but it’s true.
Christmas season is approaching fast. Alyn wants to make sure she’s able to give the children what they need.
“I cry when I talk about it. We have children out there and I want to reach them. In this day and age there is not supposed to be a child out there that doesn’t have footwear.”
If you’d like to help, there’s a donation link at http://www.slippah.org.