WAYNESBURG – When most 7-year-old girls are asked what the want for their birthday, they usually rattle off a host of toys that oftentimes makes Christmas lists pale.
But when Hannah Hughes, a precocious first grader at Waynesburg Central Elementary School, was asked just that question several weeks before her birthday March 16, her answer stunned her mother, bringing her to tears as she was driving Hannah home from school.
Hannah said she didn’t want anything for her birthday. “She said she wanted her friends who would be coming to her party to bring shoes for kids who don’t have them,” said Sarah Hughes, the office manager at Tri- State Health Care Associates on Miller Lane, Waynesburg.
“My first reaction was I cried,” Sarah said. “It takes a lot for kid to not want presents. She is very giving and very compassionate.”
Hannah’s birthday guests responded. Her friends showed up at her party with 45 pairs of shoes, but Sarah did pointed out “Hannah received a few presents, too.”
As word got out through Facebook and other avenues, the shoe collection enterprise, now referred to as The Hannah Project, took off. “Our initial expectation was that we would get about 40 to 50 pairs,” Sarah said. As of last week, more than 150 pairs of shoes have been delivered either to Tri-State Health Care or the Mount Morris Gospel Tabernacle, the two drop-off sites.
“We are looking for tennis shoes, flip-flops or Crocks because it’s hot there. “We want shoes that can be worn in that climate,” Sarah said.
Once the mid-May cutoff date for shoes arrives, the shoes will be sorted and made ready for Bennett Ministries, which is affiliated with the Mount Morris Gospel Tabernacle, to take them to Esceula De Internos, an orphanage in Nicaragua in June.
Tim Bennett, who will be taking a team of 23 from Mount Morris Gospel Tabernacle to Nicaragua, said there are approximately 42 to 43 kids at the orphanage.
“What we don’t use there we will take to other villages, many of which are quite remote,” he said.
Sarah pointed out, however, that while most of the shoes will be going to Nicaragua, she, Hannah and her husband, Dr. Frank Hughes, a chiropractor at Tri-State Health, recognize the need for shoes exists right at home as well.
“Our goal is to help the orphanage and help at home, too,” Sarah said.
So, what was it that made Hannah decide she wanted her friends to contribute shoes for her birthday? Her answer was quite straightforward. “It just came to my head. I have everything I wanted. I don’t need any more,” she said. Her mother said there was nothing she could identify as to why Hannah made her choice of shoes. “Maybe because she loves shoes and wanted to make sure as many children as possible can have them, too.”
Bennett Ministries also is accepting monetary donations because those making the trip to Nicaragua are all volunteers. Sarah said 100 percent of the money will go toward packing or shipping the shoes,” she said. Tim Bennett said he is hoping the 23 volunteers will be able to transport the shoes to the orphanage, but if some need to be shipped, they will be.
Checks should be made out to the Mount Morris Gospel Tabernacle and sent to PO Box 36, 103 Old School Road, Mount Morris PA 15349. Put “The Hannah Project” in the memo line.
“This is so unbelievable,” Bennett said. “Hannah is quite a remarkable young girl.” And soon, a group of youngsters at an orphanage in Nicaragua will learn that as well.