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St. Gabriel parishioners form bond with Panama community
William Dagendesh
/ Categories: Diocesan News, Parish News

St. Gabriel parishioners form bond with Panama community

by William J. Dagendesh

PHOTO: Pictured are the group of St. Gabriel the Archangel parishioners who traveled to Boquete, Panama, in March to provide shoes, food and supplies to orphans and other disadvantaged children.

COLORADO SPRINGS. A group of parishioners from St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish recently participated in a mission trip to Boquete, Panama to provide shoes and goods for orphaned children.

Through the God’s Sneakers program, 14 parishioners provided footwear and other vital supplies to needy children during a mission trip March 23-30. St. Gabriel Parish supports the program which, to date, has provided about 2,400 pairs of shoes to needy children.

Former St. Gabriel parishioner Luis Jordan founded the program after relocating to his wife’s hometown of Boquete. When Jordan saw children playing in bare feet, he sought support from St. Gabriel and soon began distributing sneakers at orphanages and schools.

“There’s no greater feeling than putting shoes on a child’s feet and watching their face light up,” Jordan said.

The God’s Sneakers program came about during a 2015 mission trip to Boquete during which Jordan and his wife provided clothes, food and presents to 170 children. That’s when a photo of a girl sporting a large hole in her shoe caught Jordan’s attention. “We realized we wanted to do something about it,” Jordan said. The seed for God’s Sneakers was planted.

The St. Gabriel Parish Outreach Committee Chair Sue Garcia said funding came chiefly from local expats (or expatriate, someone who lives/works in a country other than their own, often for work and temporarily) who attended his Catholic church and resided in the area. Jordan works with a local group that distributes food to families in the Boquete countryside.

“We have been providing money to support the program, but wanted to make the relationship more personal and a mission trip is the result,” Garcia said.

Garcia praised the children with whom parishioners interacted. “They didn’t know or care where the sneakers were coming from, they were just happy to have a new pair of shoes. We walked up and down dirt roads in the countryside to deliver food to families. The people were grateful for the help,” Garcia said.

“As we gathered in a small chapel before we delivered food, an older man came with his guitar. To thank us, he sang and played two songs. We were all touched by the happiness of the people and the simplicity of their lives.”

Parishioner Stephanie Bland said the group visited 38 boys at Hogar San Francisco de Asis (St. Francis of Assisi Home) and 50 girls at Hogar de la Medalla Milagrosa (Home of the Miraculous Medal), both located in the city of David, Panama.

“We gave food to young school kids who live too far away to get to their houses. We walked up and down some country roads delivering food bundles to people in their homes. We visited an elementary school and gave every student shoes,” Bland said.

“The girls were blessed to have a new facility thanks to a generous local Panamanian donor. We returned to the boy’s orphanage, built them soccer goals and painted their playground equipment. We had three young adults on the trip, and children flocked to them.”

One of those young adults, Bland’s daughter Shelby, 21, bonded so closely with a boy named Danny, 6, that she sought to adopt the child.

“She begged me to let her adopt him and bring him home. I explained it wasn’t quite that easy,” Stephanie Bland said. Shelby attends Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Of the residents, Bland said, “We found them (people) to be very loving and welcoming. Even if they were poor materially, we found them to be rich in love and happiness.”

Also, parishioners were invited to participate in Holy Week activities at San Juan Bautisto Catholic Church. One parishioner served as an apostle washing the feet of others, and men participated in a community march.

“We participated in Stations of the Cross through town with stations at homes and businesses over a two-mile walk. There was a procession through the streets with hundreds of people on Good Friday,” Bland said.

Jordan said he hopes to expand the program to where it provides food to families left unemployed from COVID-19. “I hope we can expand to other cities in Panama and not just in Boquete,” Jordan said.

Garcia said Jordan’s commitment to help others is inspiring. “He (Jordan) will tell you he is a simple man who has led a simple life, but when he speaks, we want to help him in his mission,” Garcia said of Jordan who served in the U.S. Army 22 years.

Garcia said people may not be able to solve all the world’s problems, but that their actions can impact the lives of others outside their community. Contributing to the God’s Sneakers program is a good way to do that.

 “The need we saw in Panama is so great. Our group is still processing what we experienced on the trip and thinking about how we can continue to help in the future. If everyone did something, the world could be a better place,” Garcia said.

For $7, a child will receive a new pair of shoes, and monetary donations buy food and sneakers. To learn more email Garcia at suegarcia14@gmail.com.

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