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Five Questions With. . .Georgia State University's Coach Ron Hunter

Basketball coach talks about his work with providing shoes for needy children around the world.

How many pairs of shoes do you have in your closet? (We counted 14 pairs in ours.)

Now, imagine having none at all to wear.

Nothing to protect the soles of your feet and the rocks, concrete or asphalt you walk on everyday.

For 300 million people around the world, that's their reality.

It's a reality Ron Hunter, Georgia State's men's basketball coach, is looking to change one pair of shoes at a time.

A 25-year coaching veteran, Hunter has lent his voice — and his soles — to Samaritan's Feet, which aims to provide 10 million pairs of shoes to 10 million children in the next decade.

Hunter has been involved in Samaritan's Feet for the past five years, hosting one game each of those years where he coaches barefoot.

This year, Hunter will coach his fifth annual barefoot game as the Panthers host UNC Wilmington on Thursday, Jan. 12 at the GSU Sports Arena.

East Atlanta Patch asked about his work with Samaritan's Feet.

Q. Tell us about Samaritan's Feet?

A. “The goal of Samaritan’s Feet and its team of global ambassadors is to touch the lives of men, women, and children across the United States and around the world in an effort help the nearly 300 million who go without shoes each day, and the more than a million who die each year as a result. Through this simple act humility and servant-leadership, we are the expressing love, compassion and a message that brings hope. When we give hope, especially to young children, it can change their lives forever and move them in a direction that they might have never thought possible. Our ultimate goal is to provide 10 million shoes to 10 million children in the next 10 years.”

Q. Why did you become involved?

A. “It all started with one phone call around 11 p.m. at night after my team IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) had returned from playing in Alaska. Manny Ohonme, the founder of Samaritan’s Feet, who I had never met before, called me and proposed the idea of coaching barefoot. Honestly, I thought it was a little strange at first, but when I started to realize the mission and goals of Samaritan’s Feet, there was no way that I could turn it down. The organization does such great work and has so many volunteers who put in many hours, I thought it was the least that I could do. In the five years I have been assisting them, it has grown into much more. After I took my first trip to help distribute shoes, I knew right then that I would do this for the rest of my life.”

Q. It's been 5 years so far that you've done this. What's the biggest lesson or lessons you've taken away from it?

A. “I could win every game we play, every conference championship and every national championship and it will never equal the look on a child’s face when we wash their feet, give them a pair of socks and put a pair of shoes on their feet. That lesson has humbled me more than I could ever explain. Bringing joy and hope to a child is a feeling that I wish everyone could experience at least one time. We are so blessed to have what we have in this country and to give back like Samaritan’s Feet does is just a small part of what we can do.”

Q. There seems to be so much need out there it sometimes seems that no matter what anyone does, it's never enough. What do you say to that?

A. “There is a great deal of need out there and every time I leave a trip, I see children who we were not able to help and it breaks my heart. However, I know the mission we are on and if we work day-by-day, one day, every child on this planet will not have to worry about waking up without a pair of shoes. As long as we continue to help one child at a time, we are making progress and that is the best way to look at it.”

Q. 300 million people going barefoot worldwide is a staggering number compared with the fact that the average American woman has 17 pairs of shoes. Is it hard to not feel guilty from what we enjoy here in America when so many go without?

A. “This exact question is why I wish everyone could see and be humbled by the experiences we go through when we put shoes on a child for the first time. We are fortunate that we can pick either Nike’s or Adidas’ sneakers or some $100 pairs of shoes. When we go to places like Africa or Lima, Peru, the children are so thankful for any pair of shoes. They don’t look at what the shoe says, but are just so happy to have shoes on their feet. I think it can make people really think about the materialistic things in their life and appreciate everything that we are fortunate enough to have in this country.”

If you want to help Samaritan's Feet:

  • Tickets to Thursday's game are $22 each, with $10 of that amount going to Samaritan's Feet.
  • To purchase in advance, click here and use the promo code FEET. Tickets also may be purchased at the GSU Sports Arena box office in advance or on game day.
  • You also can make a $10 donation by texting SHOES to 85944. The donation will be added to your mobile phone bill.
  • Coke Zero is sponsoring the game and will donate $150 to Samaritan's Feet for every three-point basket made by the Panthers during the game.
Panama January 11, 2012 at 03:46 PM
A really worthy cause and thanks Peralte for getting the interview so quickly.
Péralte Paul January 11, 2012 at 04:53 PM
You're welcome, Panama.

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