An 8-year-old boy walked over an hour to the market each day through the mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico with no shoes to protect his feet. He returned to an orphanage where he shared one bathroom with a family and 35 other children. One day a young man in his 20s visited the orphanage. He was from the United States, and after interacting with the children, he asked, “What would you want when we come back?” The boy and his friends responded with “shoes.”
Cesar Torres recalls this story sixteen years later. When he entered the orphanage his friend had asked him to visit, he was struck by the need for essentials. Many of the children wore hand-me-down shoes from the U.S. that either didn’t fit or were unsuitable for diverse environments. He returned to Greeley, Colorado, where he himself had moved with his family at nine years old from Chihuahua. Torres began to raise money with members of his church to return to the orphanage with shoes and other resources.
Torres and his friends’ actions were a pebble thrown into a pond, and their splash rippled into an organization Torres founded known as Zapatos Sin Fronteras (Shoes without Borders). The organization travels to countries such as Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala and the Amazon rainforest to help children in need. “It's all about starting,” Torres says. “If you start with the passion, I believe God puts the right people in front of you.”
The organization’s ripple effect has continued to spread, despite dams or blockages along the way. Torres explains the challenges of making the mission of Zapatos Sin Fronteras possible. The communities Torres and his team work with are from indigenous groups that are often hard to reach. Because of this, Torres explains the importance of having contacts in the countries they travel to.
“A lot of the places…we have asked permission for the cartels to get in there,” Torres says. Some locations require police escorts; though they are often the places with the most need.
Another obstacle the organization faced was the need for specific shoes for the environments children lived in. To counter this issue, the organization began buying shoes from local communities rather than the U.S. This enables children to receive functional shoes for their everyday life while being sustainable for their communities.
Torres didn’t stop with throwing one rock into the water. As they traveled, Torres and his team witnessed the health of communities. The organization threw another stone into a pond when it initiated a medical program to help communities with children who are malnourished or have infections. This involved various permits, permissions and risks. “I would keep praying, (saying) God, if you put this in my heart, make it happen,” Torres says.
After two years of planning, medical personnel traveled to Guatemala in 2015. Working off of pro bono conditions, the program occurred in a house instead of a clinic for a single weekend and was cleared by the Guatemalan government. According to Torres, there were thousands of kids lined up to receive medical treatment.
As Torres and his team continued to throw stones that touched the lives of many, they began tossing rocks back home in Greeley. Growing up in a family where winter jackets were shared between him and his two siblings, Torres understands the importance of getting a jacket that is entirely your own to a child. “We know families are struggling,” Torres says. “We want to be able to provide a winter coat.”
Since 2016, Zapatos Sin Fronteras has worked with JBS Foods to deliver winter jackets and other resources to schools in the Greeley area. When JBS became a full sponsor for the organization’s outreach in the U.S., the team was able to connect more with the local community. They worked with teachers who gave lists of students who needed jackets, collected coats at decent prices from stores such as JCPenny and hosted events where children and parents could receive the jackets while enjoying provided hot chocolate.
The ripple gave many kids a jacket of their own on cold winter days. The organization continues to make waves in Greeley by setting up after-school programs for students in addition to its jacket distribution.
More ripples will be made as Torres now invests in future leaders. As director and founder of the organization Torres’ goal is “to leave it to the next generation," Torres says. He is not only stewarding the next generation to have the heart and passion to do this work but is also showing them all of the intricacies to keep the waves going.
From Latin American countries to Greeley, Colorado, Zapatos Sin Fronteras and their sponsors like JBS and many local businesses have made a difference in the lives of families. Torres and his organization have reached families like the one he met in Guatemala. Torres remembers a father with tears in his eyes, telling him, “I never thought that I would see all my kids with brand new shoes running around.”
“If you start with the passion, I believe God puts the right people in front of you.” -Cesar Torres