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H.E.A.R.T. preparing for distribution

ALBANY, Ga. -- In 2009, H.E.A.R.T. Organization Inc. embarked upon the "Shoes from the HEART" initiative to ensure no elementary school student in Dougherty County was left without a reliable pair of shoes.

As the organization jump-starts a fundraising campaign in preparation for another shoe distribution later this year, officials are looking to make good on that promise.

During the first week in December, the goal is to provide 500 pairs of Nike shoes -- 100 pairs for five area schools.

"The parents and facilitators are so excited," said H.E.A.R.T.

President/CEO Anne Johnson Milledge. "We've got people that want to help us, and folks are waiting in line to get shoes."

Statistics show that 83 percent of elementary school-age children in the Albany/Dougherty County area come from economically disadvantaged homes.

In December 2009, H.E.A.R.T. (Hands Extended Across Reaching Together) presented more than 100 pairs of shoes to students at Turner Elementary School. In March, shoes were delivered to Turner Elementary and Jackson Heights Elementary in shipments of 100 pairs for each school.

The schools provide a list of the shoe sizes by gender, ensuring a proper fit. The organization's goal is to raise $12,000 for its most recent effort, and so far the group is about a third of the way there.

Officials say they expect to complete distribution over a period of two to three days. The elementary schools they are hitting this time are Turner, Jackson Heights, Morningside, Sylvester Road and Martin Luther King Jr.

There are other reasons to take part in the program other than the gratification involved with giving to someone else, the organization's CEO said.

"We are trying to build their (the students') self-esteem," Milledge said.

There are roughly 8,000 local children in kindergarten-fifth grade that officials are trying to provide for through these distributions, Milledge added. The shoes are usually picked up from a location in Locust Grove and given to the students.

As for ordering the shoes, the plans are to put in orders for the first 200 pairs by the end of this month with the remainder to be accounted for in November.

One of the ways H.E.A.R.T. is looking to raise funds is through a Nov. 6 event during which a purchased ticket will give supporters $5 off at Belk.

"One hundred percent of the proceeds go to the organization," said Fundraising Coordinator Ruby Hayes. "It's a great opportunity to make money."

The tickets cost $5 each, so the purchasers come out even on the deal. The discount applies to one ticket for each sale.

Ticket sales are already under way. Volunteers are expected to be at Belk as early as 6 a.m., selling tickets on the day of the event, Hayes said.

H.E.A.R.T., which consists primarily of current and former Procter & Gamble employees, was organized in 1980 to provide programs and assistance to Southwest Georgia residents. These services benefit underprivileged, low-income families or individuals who have lost their earthly belongings due to a natural disaster.

The nonprofit solicits support from area businesses, churches, civic organizations and individuals. To send a donation, make checks and money orders payable to H.E.A.R.T. Organization Inc. and mail them to P.O. Box 4433, Albany, 31706.

For more information, contact Hayes at (229) 395-1184.