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Evans-based Shoes Without Borders continues its work amid devastation in Guatemala

 Terry Frei

Rescue workers search for victims of the Volcan de Fuego or “Volcano of Fire” eruption in San Miguel Los Lotes, Guatemala, Friday, June 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

When news reports noted that the June 3 eruption of the Fuego volcano in Guatemala quickly buried the nearby village of El Rodeo, it was natural to connect the disaster to the Evans-based Zapatos Sin Fronteras, or Shoes Without Borders.

For 10 years, the nonprofit organization founded by Cesar Torres and his brother, Abraham, has delivered shoes to impoverished areas of Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

In Guatemala, as previous stories about Shoes Without Borders have noted, the shoes indeed go to the village of El Rodeo.

Yet Cesar Torres on Saturday explained that the El Rodeo his organization serves is a different El Rodeo. The El Rodeo connected to Shoes Without Borders is considered part of the Cuilco municipality and the Huehuetanango department, or state. It is 175 miles northwest of Guatemala City, far from the volcano.

Shoes Without Borders co-founder Cesar Torres, 34, of Evans.

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To learn more about Shoes Without Borders, go to the nonprofit’s website.

None of that lessens the concern for those affected by the eruption. The official death toll is at more 100 and expected to rise as the search for bodies, including those buried beneath the pyroclastic flows, or currents of gas, lava and ash. Searchers have discovered entire huddled families, buried and killed as they tried to take shelter in homes. Also, because the flows were so fast-moving and there was little or no advance warning, many were taken completely by surprise.

“Right now in that area of Guatemala, the communities are coming together to go and search for and rescue people,” said Torres, 34. “I’ve been going to Guatemala for years, and I know the type of structures there and the impact the volcano had. Within minutes, everything was gone. That’s how bad it was. Homes there are built of adobe. One wall collapses, it’s over.”

Torres said that Shoes Without Borders has inquired about possibly helping students from San Carlos University in the effort to help the villages — including El Rodeo — devastated by the eruption.

“The number one need down there right now is food,” Torres said. “And they need material to build homes. We’re trying to put everything together to see what we can find.”

Meanwhile, Shoes Without Borders will continue its work in the other El Rodeo. The group’s latest delivery of 350 pairs of shoes to kids there was last December.

Cesar Torres with shoes at last December’s Shoes Without Borders presentation of 350 pairs of shoes to the young people of El Rodeo in Guatemala. (Courtesy of Cesar Torres)

Shoes Without Borders has an annual December fundraiser, featuring popular musician Luis Corobel at the Moxi Theater in downtown Greeley. It buys shoes locally and has several local sponsors, including Total Remodel Contractor Inc., La Tarahumara Market, Tortilleria la Guerrera, Work Out West and Weld County Garage.

The effort in El Rodeo now involves more than shoes. Torres said his organization is in the process of buying land adjacent to a school and planning to build a cafeteria on the lot. The goal will be to feed 150 kids before each school day.

“We noticed that there’s lot of malnutrition in the children,” he said. “We have really good contact with the people in the schools, with teachers, and also nurses. It’s a 2- to 4-year project.”

Two years ago, Torres founded his own marketing firm, Promo Marketing Solutions. Among other things, Torres helps his clients, including the Greeley Stampede, with their bilingual social media campaigns. Yet his passion will remain Shoes Without Borders.

Torres was 11 when his family left the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, and came to the Greeley area. Ten years ago, at the suggestion of friend, he visited a recently opened orphanage in Chihuahua.

“I was single at the time and part of a group from my church,” Torres said. “So I just went and visited. As we were going to the orphanage, we were getting farther and farther away from a city. We got to this field. And it was just four walls, concrete and some plywood, and that was the birth of the orphanage. The kids were 3 to 18, and I noticed that it was hard to talk to them. They wouldn’t talk to you.

“I saw that a lot of the kids were wearing hand-me-down shoes from the U.S. or somewhere else. I noticed one little girl was hiding one foot behind the other. She couldn’t look me in the eye. I approached her and one of her shoes was probably size 10 and the other was a kid’s size.”

Drawing her out, Torres told her he and his group hoped to return later in the year. He asked what she wanted for Christmas.

Shoes, she said.

Torres returned to Colorado, told his story to his friends, and founded Shoes Without Borders.

“We got together and started doing car washes and garage sales,” he said.

After that fund-raising, Torres bought shoes, loaded up a car and headed back to Mexico with his brother, Abraham, and his brother-in-law, Gilbert Parra.

“When we got to the orphanage, the kids were so happy,” Torres said. “They were taking the shoes out of the box, and they were smelling the shoes. I saw the smiles and how they reacted when they saw brand new shoes. I got back to the States, and I thought we had done our good deed. But the following year my friends were asking if we were going to do this again, and we said, ‘Why not?’ We went back and then after three years, we were in Costa Rica too and then Guatemala.”

The next trip is scheduled for August, to the Amazon region near the border of Brazil and Belize.

It all started with a little girl and mismatched shoes.