AUBURN — Shoe seller Lamey Wellehan’s drive to collect shoes for the homeless will likely extend throughout the winter as both donations and demand increase.

In the past two weeks alone, the local chain’s seven stores have collected about 1,000 pairs, said Jim Wellehan, the company president.

“I think we’re now comfortably over 3,000 pairs total,” he said of the charity drive.

And more are needed, Wellehan said.

The chain has been collecting shoes for the homeless since October. Suppliers to Wellehan’s stores have donated more than 800 pairs. Meanwhile, people have been donating gently worn shoes to the stores — which size and sort the shoes, box them and send them on to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank. The food bank has been using its connections with charities statewide to give away the shoes — with local food pantries and soup kitchens acting as the distributors.

“In most cases, they’re going out as fast as they’re coming in,” Wellehan said. “It’s kind of disturbing to see the need for it.”

Initially, the drive was supposed to end this fall, but the demand for shoes at places like Portland’s Preble Street shelter and the Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston has encouraged Wellehan to keep the shoe-raiser going.

“A year ago, I didn’t know much about the problem,” he said. Then, he joined the Lewiston/Auburn Alliance for Services to the Homeless. “The need is huge.”

The drive isn’t likely to be permanent, though.

For instance, the food bank took the job on as a way to help folks, but is unlikely to continue distributing shoes to charities because the space is needed for its primary role as a food handler.

“We were glad to to take this on as a service to our agencies,” food bank spokeswoman Melissa Glenn said. “But our first job is helping who are hungry,”

To Wellehan, the first step is recognizing that there are people in almost every community that need help. Now, when he sees a rough crowd on the street, he looks at their feet and imagines trying to stay warm.

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