By Rebecca Hoey ~ The pandemic has changed many things, and during this era of uncharted waters some individuals have used this time to help others. Fair Harbor resident William Kurka and Francisco Bejarano of Bay Shore are such examples. Meeting as fourth-graders at Woodhull School on Fire Island, they now both attend Farmingdale State College and remain the best of friends. Together they are a determined duo on a mission to help the homeless.
Earlier this year, Kurka started a website to help people get vaccinated against COVID-19. He assisted seniors who lacked the internet skills to navigate setting up their own vaccination appointments and ultimately helped 400 individuals in the South Shore Long Island area receive their COVID injections.
During this time, he also became acutely aware of how serious the plight of homelessness is on Long Island, and asked Bejarano to come on board for another venture.
Nearly 4,000 people on Long Island are suffering from homelessness according their website – with approximately 1,650 being children. They began looking for ways to help. After much research, they arrived at the decision to start up a shoe drive. Footwear is one of the most needed necessities for this vulnerable population. “We are hoping that this drive grows to be as big as possible,” Kurka said.
Help Suffolk is going to be the primary location for the shoes to be handed out to individuals. But they’re also going to try to target LI Coalition for the Homeless and United Veteran Beacon House. By setting up a network of donation points across Long Island – including Bay Shore, Sayville, Fire Island, the North Shore and Nassau County locations – they have organized a team of volunteers who pick up and drop off the shoe and sneaker donations.
They have collected more than 1,000 pairs of shoes so far, both new and used. They are hopeful to collect many more. Shoes determined to be too worn are sent to a recycling organization. In addition, the stocking manufacturer Gold Medal has generously donated hundreds of pairs of new socks towards their effort, so every pair of shoes they hand out can be accompanied by a new pair of socks.
Looking forward, Kurka and Bejarano also are seeking to implement educational workshops and lectures to raise awareness. “We’re trying to get as many educational workshops together as possible,” Kurka said. The program highlights how high school students can get directly involved with combating this huge issue on Long Island. “We hope to continue to further illuminate the struggles homelessness presents to countless individuals,” Bejerano added.
The shoe drive runs through Dec. 14, so check out the map on their Long Island Aid website to find a box drop-off location near you. These civically minded young men also have set up a GoFundMe page for anyone interested in donating towards their effort: https://www.gofundme.com/f/provide-shoes-for-the-homeless
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