By Stan Schwartz
When District 6060 Gov. Valerie Sorenson visited the local Bowling Green Rotary club the week before, she brought her husband, Mike, to talk about the district’s plans to gather shoes for orphans.
Rotarian Larry Lunsford, the District 6040 foundation trustee and the project’s head cheerleader, started the program, Shoes for Orphan Souls, said Mike.
“Larry was district governor in 2002,” Mike said. He partnered with a company out of Texas, Buckner International. This company is an international ministry that’s dedicated to the transformation restoration of lives. It is a “Christ-centered organization that delivers redemptive ministry to the most vulnerable from the beginning to the ending of life,” according to the Buckner website.
As part of this, it strives to bring shoes to children who need them the most. The Bowling Green Rotary Club members have been buying shoes for this project for the past few months.
Mike is shooting for a goal of collecting 20,000 pairs of shoes by April 20, 2024 as the district’s donation for this project.
“Larry’s been doing this since 2002, so he as about 21 years of experience,” Mike said. In 2005, he added, Larry asked several Rotary districts to join this campaign again.
“Back in ’05, the state of Missouri collected 70,000 pairs of shoes,” he said.
“Why shoes? People ask,” he said. “In developing countries, children are forced to walk barefoot over rocky terrain on order to get to gather water and to attend school.”
Because of this, the children’s feet can get cuts and disease and infection can get into those cuts, such as hookworms, chiggers and tetanus, Mike explained. “These diseases can affect them physically as well as cause life-long mental damage.”
Having shoes also removes a barrier to education, he said. “A lot of schools require students to wear shoes to attend,” he said.
Mike related a story about Larry, who went on a trip to Haiti with Buckner International. There, he met a mother with two children, but could only afford to buy one pair of shoes.
“So, every morning, she had to make a decision on which one of those boys went to school,” he said. “That tugged on my heart,” Mike added. By giving her another pair of shoes, it relieved her of the burden of making that decision.
Studies have shown higher attendance in school when children have adequate footwear, he said. The goal of 20,000 pairs of shoes, he added, might be daunting, but if each Rotarian in the district brings one pair of shoes to their weekly meeting, by April of next year, that goal can be achieved.
Recently, Mike said, he had been talking to a friend about the Orphan Souls shoe collection goal. A few weeks later, when they met again, the friend invited Mike out to his car where he had nine new pair of closed-toe shoes to give him for the collection.
“I was taken aback by this, because I wasn’t asking him for anything,” he said. “I wasn’t soliciting, I wasn’t expecting anything from him.” Mike said he thanked him and told his friend how much he appreciated what he’d done. His friend told him he’d have more shoes for him the next time they met.
“He said, ‘I want to make sure you reach that goal,’” Mike added.
He asked that all Rotarian have similar kinds of conversations with their friends, neighbors and church congregations.
“You never know (if you have a friend like mine),” he said “You don’t have to do this by yourself. Get the community involved.”
Mike wants to push District 6060 to beat the 20,000 pairs goal. He came up with a campaign called “Let’s Bury Larry (In A Good Way).” The flyer shows Larry being buried in a mountain of donated shoes.
On a table at the front of the room was a large table covered in shoes that the Bowling Green Rotary Club has collected, so far.
Kevin said the club would continue to collect shoes up to the deadline in April. Mike and Valerie were ready to take the shoes with him when he and Valerie left the meeting.
“We will be tracking shoes (collected) by club,” he noted.
Once the shoes are collected, the clubs would take them to convention at the Lake of the Ozarks next April where tractor-trailer trucks will be waiting to pick up the shoes.
They plan on hold a roll call for each district’s donation and a then they will get a grand total of shoes. They’ll be loaded on the trucks and transported to Buckner International for distribution.
Buckner International has people all over the world, Mike said, and they evaluate each year where the greatest need is. He noted that 80% of the shoes would be shipped out of the U.S., and 20% would be distributed here.
International locations this year are the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Kenya, he said.
They are looking for shoes for children up to age 18—boys and girls. They have to be closed toe and various sizes.
“The demographic most overlooked,” Mike, said, “is boys 14 – 18, because everyone likes to buy girl’s shoes.” He didn’t want to discourage anyone from buying girl’s shoes, but added that the boys are frequently overlooked—anywhere from size 7 to 14.
For more information on this program, contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dan Flynn at email@example.com.