Heart and Sole: Martial Arts Teacher Rallies Community to Collect Shoes and Rain Boots for Kids in Need

Daily Point of Light # 6115 Oct 23, 2017

Farshad Azad is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree, and one of the winners of the 2016 Make A Difference Day Awards. Each year, TEGNA recognizes 14 outstanding leaders of Make A Difference Day projects, awarding $140,000 in grants that are donated to the charities related to the winning projects. Learn more about Make A Difference Day and register a 2017 project at www.makeadifferenceday.com.

Farshad Azad (back row, right) and student participants in the "Gimme Some Sole" shoe drive deliver donations to John McManus Elementary School in Chico, California, after Make A Difference Day 2016.

Each year, Farshad Azad meets with 29 public school principals, representing nearly 14,000 students in Chico, California, to see what the kids need most. The answer last year: shoes.

Farshad, who is the grandmaster at Azad’s Martial Arts Center in Chico, responded with a month-long donation drive – which he called “Gimme Some Sole” – to collect new and gently used shoes and rain boots for children from low-income families, whose flip flops, beat-up sandals and hand-me-down shoes would offer no protection or warmth from cold and rainy winter weather. He recruited students from his martial arts center to participate, along with their family and friends, members of the community, and worked out a partnership with the local Payless Shoe Source. The initiative included Make A Difference Day 2016, when more than 50 pairs of shoes and rain boots were donated in a single day. In the end, shoes and rain boots were donated to local elementary school students and homeless children.

In recognition of his efforts on Make A Difference Day, Farshad was awarded a $10,000 grant that he donated to the Chico Community Shelter Partnership, , which manages the Torres Community Shelter – a little extra money to do a lot more good for homeless families in the community. We asked Farshad to tell us more about last year’s project and what he has planned for Make A Difference Day this year.

What was the inspiration behind the “Gimme Some Sole” project?

Donation bins at Azad's Martial Arts Center, where students and community members could drop off new or gently used shoes and rain boots during the month-long donation drive.

Every winter I get calls from various community members, teachers, counselors or principals to help purchase a pair of shoes or rain boots for a child from a low-income family, whose feet are soaked in rainwater due to damaged or worn out shoes.

Last year, I attended a meeting of school principals in our district. I asked the group what would be their most urgent need for kids. Tina Keene, principal at John McManus Elementary School, told me that they needed a lot of rain boots for kids. In another meeting, with the executive director of Torres Community Shelter, I found out that they also needed rain boots and good shoes for homeless children in our community.

Thinking about young children and their health and safety became the inspiration for me to choose it as the 2016 Make A Difference Day project. So, I called it Gimme Some Sole! The idea was to not only collect much-needed shoes, but to encourage the community to reach into their own heart and share their love and compassion with disadvantaged kids in Chico.

Tell us a little more about what you did on Make A Difference Day 2016.

We collected a few hundred pairs of used and new rain boots for disadvantaged kids in our community.

The project took place at my business, Azad’s Martial Arts Center. It was a community service event for all students, and an opportunity to get hundreds of people in our community volunteering to make a difference. Azad’s students and their friends and family members looked in their own closets for lightly used shoes to donate, and many purchased new shoes with their saved piggy bank money. As we registered the event on the Make A Difference Day website, Gimme Some Sole quickly became a community-wide project, with people stepping forward to help and dropping off rain boots at the center.

I personally approached the general manager of the local Payless Shoe Source, asking him to set aside or order shoes for our project in a very rainy season. Once he heard what the project aimed to do, he provided us with a deep discount to help us out in purchasing more rain boots for kids. That was highly unexpected and much appreciated!

During an unusually rainy season in Chico, California, rain boots were a top priority for the donation drive, which served students from low-income families.

What was the most rewarding part of the experience? A favorite memory?

The most rewarding part of this project was the smiles on children’s face when we delivered the shoes to them! Absolutely heart-warming and fun. Many of them wanted to wear the shoes right there and then. Also, the fact that with the help of your organization and our team’s effort we got the community rallied to make a positive impact in a child’s life. Children are the future and if we guide them appropriately they will become great contributing members of their community in the future.

Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved and make a difference in their community?

A community is only as great as its citizens. Make A Difference Day is a great platform for people of all backgrounds to unite and help with whatever needs to be attended to or improved in a community. One day a year, the entire country can put their differences aside and join each other to benefit others. This is a great resource and opportunity.

I have a formula! When we inspire an individual to give of their heart and soul and resources, we begin to improve the world.

To positively impact our country, each city must take charge of its problems with visionary action-oriented solutions. To improve each city, we must strive to beautify our neighborhoods. To impact each neighborhood, we must first take care of the look and feel of our own residence. To beautify our place of residence, we must take pride and exercise daily attention to each part of the place. To take care of the residence, each one of residents must practice mindfulness in making ourselves better. What better way to take steps toward mindful action than to take charge of our own life and meanwhile actively help others!

I believe Make A Difference Day and any occasion to volunteer is a fantastic opportunity for everyone to step forward and take positive measurable actions to make a difference in themselves and in their community.

As a 2016 Make A Difference Day Award Winner, you were awarded a $10,000 grant to donate to a charity of your choice. What will that money go toward?

Farshad's car overflowed with shoes and boots collected through "Gimme Some Sole."

I decided to give the money to the Chico Community Shelter Partnership, with the stipulation that the funds be used to help children and their mothers get off the streets and moving toward independence. The shelter is frequently visited by homeless mothers with children of all ages. Each year, the shelter helps many homeless men and women find jobs and get their independence back. According to the center, it takes about $1,000 to get each family back on regular track. I am excited to know that the Make A Difference Day award will help at least 10 families this year to become independent.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

I hope those who read this story will realize that each one of us can truly make a difference in each other’s day. Whether we know it or not, we are all role models. Whatever we do can affect others in a positive or negative way. Why not choose the positive way? Find what is dear to your heart that can benefit everyone in the community non-discriminately and with full inclusiveness. Then take positive action! Start with a simple warm smile at someone, to whatever you can contribute. To influence this world in a positive way we have to start looking to our abilities as opposed to our limited thoughts. From that point on, your vision will take you forward. We have a saying at Azad’s Martial Arts Center: “If sky is the limit, then reach for the stars!”

What are your plans for Make A Difference Day 2017?

This has been a year of natural disasters, from floods to fires to hurricanes. I was contacted by a friend who has relatives working at a school in a low-income area of Houston. This school was in an area hit by Hurricane Harvey last month, and they lost everything including all their school supplies for the year. We have decided to dedicate this year’s Make A Difference Day to collecting and purchasing supplies for the school, so kids can go back to school knowing they are covered for their basics, from paper and pencils to tissues for the cold season. This school also lost a family of six to the floods caused by Harvey; we are happy to be a part of their healing process.

Volunteers across the nation will come together again on Saturday, Oct. 28, to improve their communities for Make A Difference Day. Project organizers are encouraged to register at www.makeadifferenceday.com to be eligible to win a $10,000 grant to donate to a charity related to their Make A Difference Day project.

Amanda Knowles