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Teen collects shoes for poor in Dominican Republic

A Bal Harbour teenager who led a shoe drive for needy children in the Dominican Republic over-achieved his goal: With the help of family members and local leaders, Bennett Blachar collected thousands of pairs of shoes.

”We collected much more than I ever hoped for,” said Bennett, 17. “This could not have happened without everyone’s help.”

Bennett, the son of Bal Harbour’s assistant mayor, Joni Blachar, collected 3,000 pairs of shoes — about three-times what he had expected.

The soon-to-be senior at Ransom Everglades sealed the final cases of shoes at the Tremont Towing facility in Miami Beach two weeks ago. The containers are being shipped to the Caribbean island and should arrive next week.

Bennett thought of the idea after vacationing with his family in the Dominican Republic. He was inspired after he took a bike ride through a village and noticed several children walking barefoot.

Bal Harbour Police Officer Madeleine Orr said she was moved by his efforts.

”We are always wondering what the youth is doing,” Orr said. “To get somebody like this who is reaching out and trying to get help is just amazing to have that kind of a character.”

The shoe drive started last October. People donated all types off shoes, including dress shoes — but mostly more sensible footwear, such as athletic sneakers, running shoes and basketball high-tops.

Bennett contacted the Rev. Albert Moses James of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana in the Dominican Republic. Bennett, whose family sailed to the island aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, heard of the church after contacting an employee from the cruise line.

The church will distribute the donations to needy people in the province of Samaná on the northeastern coast of the island.

Bennett got a helping hand from local police departments. The Bal Harbour, Surfside and Bay Harbor Islands departments let the teen use their police stations as collection sites. The Church by the Sea in Bal Harbour, Tremont Towing and Miami Beach City Hall also accepted donations. Luis Salom of Miami Beach donated the cost of shipping.

Bennett dedicated months to get the community involved. He passed out fliers and asked his high school cross-country teammates to donate pairs of shoes. Bennett himself donated a couple of pairs of shoes.

Ed Gonzalez, owner of Tremont Towing, says it’s important to lend a hand to those in need.

”It’s not a matter of donations. It’s really about the kids over there that have no shoes,” Gonzalez said. “We are all friends just trying to do the right thing.”

Bennett says he knows the children will be jubilant once they see the shoes, and he plans to have another shoe drive next year, but perhaps to help needy children in another country or here in his own.

”I can’t imagine when all this stuff gets off the boat what on earth they are going to be thinking,” he said.

Bennett is still accepting athletic, dress and practical shoes. To donate, contact Tremont Towing at 305-962-6243.

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