Empty Shoes Fill Hearts


By FRANCESCA COCCHI AND SARAH GLEASON

OCEAN GROVE – Standing among rows of empty shoes in Auditorium Square Park, Sean Feeley looks down at his feet as the sun sets on a memorial dedicated to the lives of so many.

Trying to enjoy the last days of summer weather, the Feeley family spent their Saturday in Ocean Grove at the beach and eating ice cream. For many, however, this particular weekend in Ocean Grove is far from a joyous summer celebration.

Hosted by family Christian radio station Star 99.1 FM in a collaborative effort with the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, the 9/11 Empty Shoe Memorial commemorates the lives of the 2,977 men and women who died as a result of a terrorist attack on the nation.

“It’s pretty impactful,” said Feeley with his family behind him admiring the memorial. “They did a terrific job.”

Promotions Manager Jennifer Garibay-Weiss of Star 99.1 explained the display.

“Our radio station has been collecting shoes since July,” she said. “There are 2,978 pairs of shoes; 2,977 remember the people who died in 9/11, and the 2,978th shoe is for the people who have died because of 9/11 related causes.”

The ten year anniversary memorial, which opened Thurs. Sept. 8, and is available to the public until Tues. Sept. 13, has attracted a constant stream of people, said Garibay-Weiss.

Each pair of shoes is attached to an American flag. The display consists of various sizes and types of shoes – men’s, women’s, and children’s. The station received a total of 6,000 pairs of shoes, all of which will be donated to charity after the memorial, said Garibay-Weiss.

According to Garibay-Weiss, Star 99.1 reaches over 16 million people. The station has been encouraging shoe donations and promoting the event for months.

The Thompson family, of Jackson Township, heard about the memorial from Star 99.1 and drove almost a half-hour to visit it.

Gesturing to her son and daughter, Mrs. Thompson said, “We’re here mostly to keep our kids aware of what happened at the attacks.”

Her 14-year-old daughter recounted a vivid memory of watching the September 11, 2001 attacks on television. She had been four years old at the time, and her brother had not been born yet.

“This has to stay fresh,” said Mrs. Thompson. “We have to keep hope and be proud of our country, and we have to celebrate the lives.”

Another Star 99.1 listener, Caroline Morano from Spring Lake, also visited the memorial.

“I didn’t lose anybody, but it has deeply affected me,” she said, placing her camera down. “Just imagining the amount of people, babies on planes…”

Wiping tears from her eyes, Morano told the story of when she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her jaw. She said she does not remember the pain because she lost consciousness before hitting the ground.

“God took me before I had to suffer, and I know that’s what God did for these people. It’s the only thing that keeps me going,” she said.

Morano called the memorial wonderful and said that it should be done in other places.

“We just need to continue to forgive, to love, and to live,” she said.

According to Director of Facilities and Production of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association Christopher Flynn, the town was proud to host the event.

“For 142 years our mission has been to provide opportunities for spiritual birth, growth, and renewal in a Christian, seaside setting,” said Flynn. “This is the kind of thing that is very congruous to our mission.”

As a result, Flynn said the town has had an ongoing relationship with Star 99.1.

Originally the Empty Shoe Memorial was supposed to be located on Somerset Christian College and the campus of Zarephath Christian Church where Star 99.1 FM is located. However, when hurricane Irene destroyed the campus, Garibay Weiss said the station decided Ocean Grove “would be the perfect place.”

According to Flynn, the 9/11 memorial has caused a significant amount of pedestrian traffic. Police officers from London, England are supposedly making their way into Ocean Grove to aid in this weekend’s activities, including a morning worship service and a September 11Remembrance Service, held at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the Great Auditorium.

Ocean Grove resident and Communications High School student Mary Badger walked by the memorial on Wed. Sept. 7 when Star 99.1 was setting up the display.

“It’s a good way to visualize how many people were affected,” she said.

Although Ocean Grove has invited the station to do a similar event in the future, Garibay-Weiss is unsure of whether or not they will accept the offer for next year.

“It’s important to never forget, but it’s also important to move forward,” said Garibay-Weiss. “Big events like this have a tendency to become a day, rather than about the individual lives. We’re here to commemorate the people.”

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