By Catherine Dobiáš McWilliams
How many miles do you figure you put on a pair of shoes during the time you wear them? Have you ever donated your old shoes to a rummage sale or thrift shop? Do you ever wonder about their whereabouts after they are gone, or if they are carrying the weight of someone else, as well as they did you?
The people of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Islip Terrace and those of congregations near and far, including Our Savior Lutheran Church, Patchogue; Trinity Lutheran Church, Long Island City; St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Islip Terrace; St. John Of God Roman Catholic Church, Central Islip; and even the student council at Shelter Rock School in Manhasset donated old and new shoes and added thousands of miles onto their existence to serve people in the developing world, many of whom do not own shoes, or even have access to clean water. The shoe drive effort was two-fold: to provide people with shoes, and to turn the excess shoes into water.
Don’t be fooled--it’s not just people of faith who can turn shoes into water!
Founded in 2008 by George Hutchings (aka "The Shoeman"), Shoeman Water Projects picks up donated used and new shoes year-round from businesses, churches, schools, and shoe drives. Once collected, the shoes are given a second life and are exported to retailers in the developing world. Funds generated from the export of shoes provide well-drilling rigs, water purification systems, hand pump repair, and supplies to bring clean, fresh water to those who thirst. The resale of shoes provides jobs and affordable footwear. Affordable shoes are a life-saving tool as they protect the new owner’s feet from abrasions, parasites, and mites.
Deacon Janet O’Mara organized Christ, Islip Terrace’s nine-month drive, which resulted in 5,042 pairs of donated shoes filling an entire Sunday school classroom in September. The shoes collected in this effort will pay for two water purification systems and the training for two people to install them, resulting in 10,000 people getting clean water every week of every year. "Humans can go days without food, but won’t last too long without water," says Deacon O’Mara. "Clean drinking water is something many of us take for granted."
It has long been an effort of Christ to invite other neighboring congregations to join in projects and celebrations. So when Deacon O’Mara approached her neighbor and told her mother-in-law of her project, they were eager to work collaboratively and set off the network of support through their congregations. With that, O’Mara found a regular deposit of bagged shoes on her driveway which she transported to the church to help to reach the goal of 5,000 pairs of shoes. She called it her "Stinky Shoe Run." Though the smell of the stinky shoes is long gone from the Sunday school classroom, the essence of how we all make the walk in others’ lives much easier will be remembered through the availability of fresh water that these shoes will provide.