Editor's Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on North Okaloosa nonprofit organizations and efforts.
CRESTVIEW — Larry and Linda Tuggle of Crestview have seen more shoes in the past two months than most people see in a lifetime, with 6,233 donated pairs and counting.
The couple joined a ServantCARE nonprofit ministry shoe drive. Funds2Orgs, another nonprofit, ships the donated shoes to impoverished people in Haiti and central Africa to help teach them to start, maintain and grow their own business, according to the organization's media release.
ServantCARE sets a goal of 2,500 shoes per household, and each participating household receives a box with a 100 bags in it, according to Larry Tuggle. Each bag holds 25 pairs of shoes.
In the first few weeks, they said they were a little concerned about reaching their goal by the March 31 deadline.
"We had little faith, and we learned that God is much bigger than our natural eye can see or our natural mind can understand," Larry said.
"It wasn't attainable," Linda said.
"But we prayed and God just moved, and we learned that God can supply more than we can even think or imagine," Larry said.
After praying for help, the two sat down and made a list of everybody they knew, and everybody they felt comfortable asking to provide 25 pairs of shoes.
"We have friends who work on base, we have friends who go to MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), we have friends in Fort Walton, friends in Niceville, and we started asking friends, individuals, our neighbors," Linda said. "We took brochures to all our neighbors, and asked them to ask their friends."
"We made a list of churches and asked them for help, and we met with businesses where we knew the business owners and felt comfortable asking them."
Then, shoes really started coming in.
"We're both retired," Larry said, "but we didn't realize this was going to become a full-time job. It seemed to start slowly and then snowballed."
When things were at full speed, it became a six-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day job.
"My husband was so phenomenal in dealing with the shoes every day when they came in. We never had more than 250 pairs of shoes in the house at one time. As soon as they would come in, he'd start banding them and bagging them. We had to put a rubber band around each pair, and 25 pairs in each bag," Linda said.
While they're no longer taking in shoes — they plan to take another 100 pairs or so to a site in Eufaula, Alabama, April 20 — the couple has learned a lot about people during the drive.
They have had shoes come to them locally, through family members, through a relative on Facebook that Linda didn't even know she had, and people several states away.
"We thank (everybody) involved for making it possible for people they know to bless less fortunate people that they don't know," Linda said.