The Times West Virginian

October 25, 2013

East Dale’s ‘Operation Flip-Flop’ helps people in Nicaragua

By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Dropping temperatures are a clear indicator that it’s not flip-flop weather anymore, but there were still hundreds of pairs to be found at East Dale Elementary on Thursday.

East Dale’s entire student body participated in a program called “Operation Flip-Flop” by donating flip-flops to people in Nicaragua who are in need.

“In today’s society, it is extremely important to understand the importance of giving to others in need and to understand the impact that one pair of flip-flops can have on an individual,” Gabrielle Beech, community service coordinator at East Dale, said.

Father Walt Jagela, of Immaculate Conception Church, came up with the idea and initially started the project within his congregation.

“I’ve done mission work to Nicaragua for several years, and I know that the need in Nicaragua is great in the villages for kids and for adults to have flip-flops,” he said. “When I came here I thought I’d put it out there for the church, but I was not expecting that the simple announcement in the church bulletin would just flourish and grow like crazy.”

According to Jagela, members of the church donated more than 800 pairs of flip-flops. Some of those church members are also teachers at East Dale, so they decided to see if they could make an even bigger impact by bringing the idea to the school.

According to Beech, the students contributed a total of 363 flip-flops to the cause.

“They’re paying it forward so that others can have a better chance at life and know that other people care for them even if they’ve never met them,” Jagela said.

On Thursday, students congregated in the school’s multi-purpose room for a presentation given by Jagela.

During the presentation, Jagela taught students to speak a few words in Spanish and explained to students what life is like in Nicaragua and how their donations would make an impact.

“You are making a difference in their lives,” Jagela told the students.

Jagela, who has an adopted daughter who lives in Nicaragua, will travel to the country in December for her high school graduation. While he is there, he will also distribute the hundreds of pairs of flip-flops that he has collected from the community.

“I’m shipping many of the flip-flops, but I’m also taking some flip-flops with me so I have them when I arrive and I can give them out to many of the villages in Nicaragua and surrounding areas.”

Third-grade student Ashlyn Bennington said she was happy to know that her efforts would improve someone’s life.

“It makes me feel very good inside,” she said.

Tyler Parrish, another third-grade student, took away a very important lesson from Jagela’s presentation.

“I learned that you should be happy for what you have,” he said.

Email Kaylyn Christopher at or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.