WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - When most people's birthday comes around, they think of what gifts they want to receive. One Purdue track athlete is thinking of how he can give back.
Bijay Stephens is a Junior at Purdue. He's also a hurdler for the Boilermaker Track and Field Team. He has his 22nd birthday coming up on May 15th.
"I would always get asked what I wanted for my birthday and I never really wanted anything," he said.
Bijay's best friend and teammate Samara Miller said his generosity is felt throughout the whole team.
"He just loves people and he loves reaching out to people and he loves doing whatever he can to help someone," she said, calling him the "dad" of the team. Bijay said he is grateful to his teammates, and his parents, for helping him the word about his shoe drive on social media.
He's been running track since he was just four years old. His love for running, and for his hometown of Fort Wayne, inspired him to start Bijay's Birthday Shoe Drive. Bijay said he wants to help those who may not have been as lucky as him as a kid.
"I think I had a pretty good life growing up and I had friends who didn't or people I went to school with that didn't and so that was one of the big inspirations for me," he said.
He is collecting new or gently used running shoes to donate to the Fort Wayne Boys and Girls club. He said he is also donating shoes to other homeless shelters around the city, and to Genesis Outreach Inc., a home for women who are overcoming addiction. He saw a need for shoes after he started coaching kids in track.
"I noticed how a lot of them didn't have the right necessities they needed to be participating in track," he said.
Purdue Track and Field head coach Norbert Elliott said these kids will be getting more than just a pair of new kicks.
"For a kid to receive track and field shoes or a pair of sneakers from a collegiate kid at Purdue University, it's more than a shoe it's 'oh wow!' It just inspires them and some of these kids really need it," he said. Coach Elliott said it's important that student-athletes also learn to give back to the communities that look up to them.
Bijay first did this drive two years ago and collected 150 pairs of shoes. He said he tried doing a back-to-school drive the next year, but that people still gave him shoes. So he decided to go back to the shoe drive this year, and he has a new goal of 200 pairs of shoes.
"Kids, they're our future so that's what I want to focus on," he said.
He wants the kids of Fort Wayne to know that they matter to someone.
"We're not a bad city but I think we took a step in the wrong direction with a lot of violence and so my main goal is to show these kids that somebody does have your back somebody cares about you," he said.
He is collecting donations until his birthday, May 15th, from anyone who is willing to help him out. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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