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US soldiers overseas thankful for sneaker donations amid pandemic

ABC News logo ABC News 7/22/2020

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A nonprofit that sends sneakers overseas to soldiers in need has seen a surge in donations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Founded in April 2018, Sneakers for Soldiers now ships 300 pairs of shoes per month to military personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, with the help of donations from all parts of the United States.

Last year, "World News Tonight" introduced America to founder Deborah Hausladen -- a military mom on a mission to help soldiers, like her son and his comrades, who were serving in Afghanistan -- and on Tuesday, she shared an exciting update with anchor David Muir.

"Since last July, when you first aired our story on America Strong, we shipped over 2,600 pairs of sneakers to troops deployed to combat zones and imminent danger areas," she said to Muir in a video message.

Sneakers for Soldiers received $300,000 in donations in the first week of the original report last year, and participation poured in from across the country, including from schools like Wyoming Valley West Middle School, which raised $5,000.

Each shoe is chosen specifically for the soldier, taking into consideration his or her feet and the conditions in which the soldier is serving. Then, a label is attached to each pair of sneakers with a message from the donor.

Several servicemen and women overseas shared messages of thanks with ABC News, but could not reveal their locations or last names for safety. Corporal Ethan said that the need for sneakers has been even greater this year because of the pandemic back home.

Michael Fox et al. wearing military uniforms: Soldiers pose with sneakers sent to them by Sneakers for Soldiers. Deborah Hausladen of Malvern, Pennsylvania, started the nonprofit Sneakers for Soldiers in April 2018 to collect and send shoes to soldiers in need overseas. © Deborah Hausladen/Sneakers for Soldiers Soldiers pose with sneakers sent to them by Sneakers for Soldiers. Deborah Hausladen of Malvern, Pennsylvania, started the nonprofit Sneakers for Soldiers in April 2018 to collect and send shoes to soldiers in need overseas.

"With COVID-19 restrictions, I was having a really hard time finding a new replacement pair," he said in a video on "World News Tonight." "I'm so appreciative to have [them], thank you."

Three specialists, Ryan, David and Morgan -- whose last names were also omitted for safety -- shared another message with Muir thanking the nonprofit for the shoes.

"These sneakers provided us motivation and moral," Daniel said.

"Back home, things aren't great right now. We got the pandemic going on," Master Sgt. David told ABC News. "Just knowing that we're not forgotten while we're out here serving makes the time go by so much easier."

Military families back home, like Shanina and her four children, Lauren, Gavin, Colin and Alyssa, also took this opportunity to express their gratitude.

"[We] want to thank Sneakers for Soldiers for remembering our special soldier. Thank you for sending not only him, but his entire unit sneakers," Shanina said. "We appreciate you remembering them while they're away from home."

a person posing for the camera: Deborah Hausladen of Malvern, Pennsylvania, got the idea for Sneakers for Soldiers after getting a call from her son who was serving in Afghanistan about needing new shoes. © ABC News Deborah Hausladen of Malvern, Pennsylvania, got the idea for Sneakers for Soldiers after getting a call from her son who was serving in Afghanistan about needing new shoes.

Her husband, First Lt. Tony described the exciting unboxing moment to ABC News in a video message.

"When those boxes arrived and we opened them up, I'm talking about adult soldiers, men and women, smiling like Christmas," he said.

His family shared a video message in reply, saying, "Hi daddy, we miss you, see you soon."

Click here for more information on Sneakers for Soldiers.

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