Ralph Rotella of North Syracuse, voted the Today’s Options Grand Champion, accepts a check for the Rescue Mission. (Photo by Jason Emerson)
By Jason Emerson
Ralph Rotella of North Syracuse was named the Grand Champion in the Today’s Options Champions Competition Aug. 30 at the New York State Fair, which means his designated charity, Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse, will receive a $10,000 donation from the Today’s Options company.
The Today’s Options Champions Competition, sponsored by Today’s Options, a leading local Medicare Advantage health plan, is designed to recognize everyday champions who are making a difference in the lives of older Americans in Central New York.
“I’m happy because all of us do a lot of good things for our communities, not just me — we’re all champions,” Rotella said. “We’re all winners.”
Today’s Options Senior Vice President of Sales James McKenzie said this year there were more votes in the competition than ever before. The company plans to run the contest again next year.
“This is not a promotion for the company,” McKenzie said. “This really recognizes people who do these things and helps them help their charities. These are all amazing people in their own ways.”
The grand champion announcement was made on stage at Chevy Court at the state fair, where all five finalists were introduced and thanked by McKenzie.
Rotella, owner of the Discount Shoe Repair shop in downtown Syracuse, said he was inspired to become a volunteer when he saw a homeless man on the street outside his shop in the dead of winter whose shoes were ragged and full of holes, exposing his bare feet to the elements. He invited the man into the shop and gave him a pair of high quality winter boots to wear at no charge. The man took the boots and walked away without a word, but to Rotella, it was a pivotal moment.
“I think God or somebody sent him to me that day,” Rotella said.
That year, Rotella gave 65 pairs of repaired shoes to the Rescue Mission. Since then, he has reconditioned and donated more than 20,000 pair of shows to the organization. This year he is on track to reach his goal of providing more than 15,000 pairs of restored shoes to the Rescue Mission. The majority of these shoes will be given to older adults in need in the local community.
Rotella has become a local celebrity. He often gets calls asking, “Are you the shoe guy?”
Rotella was named a finalist in the Today’s Options competition in late July, along with four other local volunteers:
While Rotella received the grand prize of a $10,000 donation to his designated charity, the other four finalists also were awarded $1,000 donations to each of their respective charities.
Rotella said he wanted to thank the people at Rescue Mission Alliance for nominating him, everyone who voted for him, the other four competition finalists and Today’s Options, who will donate the money to Rescue Mission Alliance.
Visit TodaysOptionsChampions.com to read the Champions’ full stories or watch their videos on YouTube.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.