Sending shoes to Africa: Alfie Jelks' nonprofit aims to supply shoes, medicine and basic care

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comMay 17, 2014 

The last time Alfie Jelks visited Africa he brought 1,000 pairs of shoes with him. When the Columbus man returns there in September, he hopes to bring that and much more.

"I want to have a medical team to help the people," he said.

He said he has already got a dentist, Henry Cook II, a hygienist and some dental assistants on board, and he is hoping to convince a physician to come along.

"Just give me a call," he said, smiling.

The group is scheduled to leave Sept. 15.

Jelks, 46, is the founder and president of a nonprofit corporation, The Soul of My Footprint, the primary objective of which is the dissemination of deliberate and provisional supplies of medicine, clothing and basic care items for the people of Jinja, Uganda.

The owner of Alfie's African Treasures in the Mission Square Shopping Center on University Avenue was born in Tuskegee, Ala., but raised here. He is a graduate of Kendrick High School. He graduated from Chattahoochee Valley Community College and got a degree in human services from Troy University. He said he earned a master's degree in theology in a Liberty University online program.

He is currently a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve and an assistant pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Columbus.

A shoe drive in 2007 was successful, and Jelks hopes the month-long drive that begins June 1 will do even better.

"The city really came together the last time," he said.

Not only are shoes being sought but cash donations as well.

"We need donations to help ship the shoes. I can't take them with me on the flight. If there is a group or company that wants to help us cover the shipping cost, we would love to talk to them," he said.

Money is also needed to pay for the flight, food and lodging for those traveling with Jelks.

A donation of $30 can get a person a T-shirt from his business.

Jelks said Walmart has already donated boxes of shoes, and any donation may be made at his store.

"I want new shoes or shoes that have only been worn a couple of times. I don't want to give these good people something I wouldn't wear. The last time, some people donated junk, thinking that just because these folks are poor that they will wear anything," he said.

In addition to shoes, he is seeking toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Jelks said people in Uganda would rather earn what they need, but many can't.

He said poverty is a problem in America, but there is system to help those who are hungry, sick or need a place to sleep.

"There is no system there, no safe haven," he said. "They can't afford it."

He added that the church can only do so much.

When visiting, he tries to be encouraging to the people and talks of hope.

Jelks enjoys being with the people that he visits. "They are very warm. It excites them to know somebody in another part of the world cares about them."

Jelks said it was in 1993 that God spoke to him and told him go to the poorest country in the world and "be a blessing to those in need."

When he went the first time, bringing just a few hygiene items, he said he was shocked by the poverty he saw.

"I still am," he said.

He said the people there are not depressed by their lack of possessions or services.

"People are poor but don't wear it on their face," he said. "They are not walking around saying, 'Oh, woe is me.' They love life."

He said he enjoys the slow pace of life there.

Jelks believes that helping the needy, especially those in Uganda, is what he is meant to do.

"I believe most people spend their life searching for a purpose. God defined my life for me," he said.

WLTZ television news anchor Dee Armstrong is a member of the board of Jelks' organization and is going to Africa with Jelks.

"Alfie and I have been friends for a long time and I want to support him," Armstrong said.

She said by going on the trip she will definitely be leaving her comfort zone and that she plans to "grow spiritually."

"Alfie has always had a good heart. He has always done for others," Armstrong said. "When he first started making trips to Africa to help the people there, he was financing it all himself."

She plans to tape what she sees over there and show it on "The Dee Armstrong Show."

Cook has not been to Uganda before but has been on mission trips to other African countries. As a medical student, he spent several months in Zambia in 1995.

"When I was there, I saw the great need," he said.

Cook said that it was then that he made a covenant with God that if he went on to become a successful dentist he would help the people there, and he has done that.

"When Alfie mentioned this trip I told him to count me in," Cook said.

Jelks said that when people go somewhere, they should leave things better than they found them.

"You should leave your footprint," he said, referring to the name of his organization. "You have to have a soul for others."

People can reach Jelks at 706-718-1371 or by email at alfiesat@aol.com. To find out more about The Soul of My Footprint, visit the website at www.tsomf.org.

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