By Tommy Farrell SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Ralph Rotella has been repairing shoes at Discount Shoe Repair in downtown Syracuse for over 40 years. He learned from his uncle how to fix shoes when they came over from Italy in the 1970s. The store brings in old friends, new customers, and even some important figures like David Muir and Coach Boeheim. But it’s the people who can’t even afford to have shoes on their feet, that Rotella cares the most for.
“Sometimes when people walk in and ask, I just go in the back and grab a pair and give it to them,” Rotella said.
Rotella started holding an annual shoe drive seven years ago when he saw someone on the streets in the cold weather wearing worn-out shoes. That first year, Rotella collected around 75 pairs of shoes. This year, he already gathered over 11,000. He doesn’t only collect donated shoes, but he repairs them, too. But, Rotella doesn’t let that process get in the way of business. He’s open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but works after hours to repair the donated shoes.
“I take care of my business during the day,” Rotella said. “And weekends, like Saturday and Sunday, I come down and do it.”
Carolyn Hendrickson, Chief Development Officer at The Rescue Mission, says a high number of people come to them for shoes on a weekly basis.
“There are hundreds of people each week who needs shoes,” Hendrickson said.
The Rescue Mission aims to help people in poverty that live in the Syracuse area.
“We would not be able to meet all of those needs as readily as we are able to if it weren’t for Ralph’s shoe drive,” Hendrickson said.
Rotella hopes to collect 15,000 pairs of shoes before Christmas.
Rotella is thankful for the outpouring support from the Syracuse community.
“I feel like an angel in heaven,” Rotella said. “Too bad I don’t have wings or I’d want to fly.”