Columbus man taking shoes, dental supplies to poor in Africa

Alfie Jelks talks about trip to Africa

Alfie Jelks talks about taking shoes to children in the African country of Uganda. This is his sixth trip there.
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Alfie Jelks talks about taking shoes to children in the African country of Uganda. This is his sixth trip there.

As he has the last two years, Alfie Jelks is traveling from Columbus to Jinja, Uganda, with shoes and dental supplies for needy children.

It is his sixth trip to the African country.

This time, a person accompanying the local businessman is making the mission trip something special.

His mother, Laura West, is going along.

“The lord has blessed me this year with the opportunity,” said West, a 70-year-old private care worker who raised Jelks on her own. “I have seen him go before and have wanted to see for myself his work there. I want to give out supplies. I want to talk to the people and experience their lifestyle. I want to be part of the mission work.”

Jelks said people in Uganda have heard the news and are planning a “The Mother of Alfie is Coming” celebration.

“I can’t wait to see what that is going to be like,” said a smiling Jelks.

Shanae Griffin, LaToya Nelson, Edda Lamb and Sylvia Reed will join them on the trip. The group left Monday and 18-hour trip made one stop in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Griffin is a vocational specialist with AmericanWork Inc.; Nelson is owner of Precious Minds Counseling; Lamb is a retired teacher; and Reed is president of the Women’s Missionary Society at St. Paul AME Church. All said they have dreamed of going overseas and helping others.

West is not surprised her son has devoted himself to this cause and others.

“Alfie has always been a giving person,” she said. “He has helped many people through the years not only in Africa, but here, too.”

Jelks and companions will be giving out 600 pounds of shoes to children, many of whom have never had any. More than 150 pounds of dental supplies such as toothpaste and toothbrushes will go into the hands of children.

“We are taking more shoes than last year, but it is never enough,” Jelks said.

Wal-Mart donates many of the shoes Jelks delivers. Others are donated by local residents.

The shoes he has shipped overseas are new or practically new. When he first began his mission, people would donate old, worn footwear.

“Some people think just because these folks are poor they will wear anything,” Jelks said.

But he wanted children to get something in which they could take pride.

“The poverty in Africa is so different than poverty here in this country,” he said. “Children here have a sense of entitlement. I had a shoe giveaway event. The kids I mentioned it to wanted to know if the shoes were name brand. And they did not want the no brand shoes. In Africa, it would have been a 2-mile line to get a pair of those shoes. We are changing children’s lives.”

Jelks said there is no government system in Uganda to help the poor. The people depend on missionaries to help.

Jelks, 48, was born in Tuskegee, Ala., but raised in Columbus. He got his education locally at Kendrick High School, Chattahoochee Valley Community College and Troy University.

Since 2001, he has been the owner of Alfie’s African Treasures on University Avenue, which sells authentic items from Africa as well as fraternity and sorority paraphernalia. He often speaks at schools about African culture.

Jelks, who serves as an assistant pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Columbus and is a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves, is the founder of the nonprofit “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.

Secondary purposes include, but are not limited to, the provision of scholarships for students planning a major related to science, social services education, theology or nonprofit work.

The organization also contributes to local organizations.

Jelks believes 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,” he said. “God defined my life for me.”

The six people left on Sept. 12. Jelks will stay two weeks while the others will return after one week.

He said he would like to set up a pen-pal type situation between some children there and children here.

He takes a lot of photos of children wearing the shoes because “people want to see there their money is going.”

Jelks enjoys being with the people he visits.

“They are very warm,” he said. “It excites them to know somebody in another part of the world cares about them.”

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

“They are not walking around saying, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ They love life.”

Larry Gierer: 706-571-8581, @lagierer