Young Lilliana took her time looking for the perfect pair of shoes for herself—the ones that made her smile the biggest. She tried on a bright pink pair of sneakers, then a blue and purple pair with velcro straps, and then an all-white pair of high tops.
It was just a little bit of normalcy in what has been a chaotic time for the young Ukrainian girl. Lilliana, her younger sister, and their mother had arrived at Centrum Medyczne (Medical Center) in Rzeszów, Poland, after fleeing Ukraine because of the war there. The three of them were currently residing at this safe location, set up in the upper floor of a shopping mall, as they prepared and planned on where to go next.
“When people arrive here, they have their basic necessities with them. Sometimes they leave very fast and they may have just had a couple minutes to grab things and just run. At the beginning [of the war] there were people who traveled for 50-60 hours, so they were exhausted, especially kids,” said Rafał Kut, Director of Communications, Centrum Medyczne.
Ukrainian refugee families in Poland like Lilliana’s can receive meals, showers, laundry, medical attention, and a bed for as long as they need at Centrum Medyczne. On this special day, they could also receive a new pair of shoes, and just a simple smile and hello from someone who came to show them they were loved.
Samaritan’s Feet setup this distribution a little differently than normal. All the shoes were placed on tables in the dining hall of Centrum Medyczne so that each pair could be seen. Recipients were then invited in and had the opportunity to “shop around,” select which ones they liked, and try them on to find their perfect pair. The hope of the Samaritan’s Feet team was to show these families and individuals respect and dignity with a normal experience.
“The biggest thing we do is we try to make sure that every person maintains their dignity no matter what. During a disaster, we want a person to feel like a person,” said Christian Rodriguez, International Disaster Response Manager, Convoy of Hope. Convoy of Hope was instrumental in getting the two containers of shoes and socks into Poland at the beginning of the war, some of which were now being given out at Centrum Medyczne.
An older woman entered the dining hall and looked diligently at all of the shoes. After looking and trying on several pairs, she humbly asked if she could have two pairs: one for summer and one for fall. The team excitedly said ‘of course,’ happy to grant this simple wish for someone who has endured so much. Seemingly overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers, her eyes filled with tears as she thanked the team. Then, with every fiber of her strength, wished health and peace upon them.
Two teenage siblings came in with their mother, surprised at the sight of all of the shoes on the tables. With the help of a Samaritan’s Feet team member, they each tried on shoes and all found the ideal and most comfortable pair for them. Thirty minutes after leaving in their new shoes, they returned to say thank you to those who helped find them a properly-fitting pair.
“It is so refreshing [when groups come in], especially for the children. Some of them have had trauma because they saw things that no child is supposed to see. We try to bring as much of a normal life for them as possible,” said Kut.
And for those wondering, Lilliana decided on the blue and purple pair of shoes with the velcro straps. Those are the ones that made her smile the biggest.