By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
As her father was battling cancer earlier this year, Tracy Swack decided a challenge to collect shoes for people in need would be a good way for her and her father to spend precious time together and to help those who are less fortunate.
"A friend who works for Soles4Souls sent me a challenge to participate in a contest they were having. You registered in the Travel Challenge and the person who collects the most pounds of shoes and clothes wins a paid trip to go and distribute the shoes and clothes in Haiti," Swack said.
Soles4Souls is a nonprofit agency based in Hermitage, TN, that was formed in 2005 that collects shoes and clothing to distribute to those who are in need all over the world.
Swack, a former Crossville resident, decided to accept the challenge and work with her father on the project.
"The contest runs from January through May 15. I thought it would be a good thing for me and my Dad to have something to talk about and make him feel like he was a part of things and also participating. I would report my (collection) totals, borrow his truck to make pick-ups, and it indeed was something fun for us to talk about other than how he felt," she said.
Unfortunately, Swack's father took a turn for the worse and lost his battle against pancreatic cancer Feb. 24.
"I had felt he might make it until the end of the contest but he did not. Because of the shoe drive, I couldn't just curl up in a ball and hide like I wanted to after his death. I had to keep going and it has been an inspiration for me to see it through. I am currently in the lead with more than 40,000 pounds of shoes and clothing collected," Swack said.
"My goal was 20,000 pounds and I've doubled that. I am just so tickled that people are caring so much to do this. It's overwhelming and it's great," she said.
With the help of friends and family and of the people of the Upper Cumberland area, she is on track to total the most collected ever by an individual in the history of the Soles4Souls Travel Challenge contest. The winner who collects the most travels to the country of their choice with a friend to actually distribute the clothing and shoes.
Swack is the first and only person from Tennessee participating in the contest.
"I want to go to Haiti because of all of the countries Soles4souls goes to, Haiti is the one in the most need. I just felt so helpless with my Dad's situation and felt that giving someone shoes and clothes who don't have any might just be the therapy I could use after such a devastating loss," Swack said.
At the beginning of the shoe drive, the Cumberland County Playhouse hosted a concert on Valentine's night with the contemporary Christian band Rend Collective Experiment.
"It was a great start and we collected shoes with the price of admission. I left with almost a 1,000 pairs of shoes that night," Swack said. "Everyone has been so helpful."
The final collection day is May 14.
There will also be a large community celebration collection day May 10 in Cookeville, TN at the Cookeville Depot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for those who want to bring any of their unwanted, unneeded shoes and clothing. Lunches will be available for purchase and there will also be music and entertainment.
Shoes or clothing can also be dropped off at any of the cardboard boxes or blue recycling bins in the Upper Cumberland Area that are marked Soles4Souls. These donations will go toward Swack's mission.
Crossville has been a big contributor to this with drop locations at Dave Kirk Automotive, DEPA, Mikki's Frameshop, Kelly Tollett's law office, Ms. Cam's, The Eye Center, Big Boy's BBQ, FFG United Methodist Church, Peg Broadcasting, First Christian Church, Pomona United Methodist, First Baptist Church, Pleasant Hill's Uplands Retirement Village and The Phoenix School. There is a large blue recycling bin at Dave Kirk Automotive on Hwy. 127.
Follow Swack's progress online at https://www.facebook.com/UpperCumberlandSole4SoulsShoeDrive