CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It all started with the search for a family mission trip. Carolina Panther Steve Smith and his wife Angie wanted to find a way to serve the community with their three children. That search led to much more than just one trip for Steve. It led to a side job.
After this year’s Pro Bowl the Panthers wide receiver started spending time at the offices of Samaritan’s Feet. The Charlotte-based charity works to provide new shoes for needy children and adults all over the world.
It was started by a man who knows the difference a pair of shoes can make. Manny Ohonme grew up in poverty in Nigeria. He says the gift of shoes from missionaries eventually led to a basketball scholarship in the U.S. He started Samaritan’s Feet in the garage of his south Charlotte home. It’s now housed in a warehouse and has reached children in 63 countries around the world.
"To look at it today in 2012 and realize that we’ve impacted close to 4 million people, that tells anybody watching that dreams do still come true, ” Ohonme said.
He set a goal to reach 10 million people. Smith is hoping to help him get there in a very active way.
He wasn’t interested in just writing a check or being the spokesperson.
“I’m not there to be the mascot or to be the token but to be a worker to be down there and to serve and lead,” Smith said.
The Panthers wide receiver has been to a few shoe drives and there are more planned for this summer.
One trip in particular Steve expects to be pretty emotional. He and his family will return to his home in Los Angeles and help distribute shoes at a rescue mission. It’s not just the place he’s familiar with but the situation. Just like the people they will be serving, Steve experienced homeless for a time when he was a child.
"We weren’t there at that same place. Through some other people and some help we were kind of put in a hotel for a little bit but just trying to figure it out and going through that builds a few callouses where I think at times going to serve down there I think old wounds will be reopened,” Smith said.
But he returns being able to offer hope that life can get better.
Next year in every city where the team plays Steve will help with distribution drives. He’s hoping other players will join the effort.
“It’s pretty exciting to have someone like Steve say I want to use the stage that I have been given the opportunity that I have to be the face and the voice for under privileged children all over the world who can’t speak for themselves,” Ohonme said.