By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
OXFORD — In the past four years, members of St. Mary Parish-Oxford have donated more than 1,000 shoes to individuals in need throughout the world.
This Lenten season, the parish hopes its members will dig even deeper in their closets, under their beds and in their storage rooms for gently used shoes.
“We are at it again, starting our Lenten shoe drive and helping people get rid of shoes that are cluttering their (homes),” said Kathy Brack, pastoral associate.
Soles4Souls is a Nashville-based charity, founded in 2006, that collects new and used shoes and redistributes them through direct donations to people in need and through micro-enterprise partners, according to the organization’s website. Soles4Souls has distributed over 22 million pairs of shoes to people in more than 127 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal, Haiti, Japan and the United States.
Brack first heard about Soles4Souls while reading Parade magazine several years ago. In 2011, she talked to the parish’s social action committee about hosting a shoe drive during Lent. The parish started its inaugural campaign in the spring of 2012. Parishioners were encouraged to donate all types of shoes, from athletic shoes to pumps to sandals. All they had to do was tie pairs of shoes together using the laces or rubber bands and drop them in a box in the parish meeting space. Even matchless shoes were accepted. That first year, St. Mary’s parishioners donated about 400 pairs of shoes.
To increase the impact of the annual collection, the parish has found a way to empower individuals with special needs in the process. At the end of Lent each year, parish volunteers deliver the shoes to a drop-off location at Village Northwest Unlimited (VNU) in Sheldon, Iowa. VNU is a facility that strives to provide purpose, privacy and dignity to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism spectrum and traumatic brain injuries. Sheldon is about a five-hour drive from Oxford. Closer drop-off sites are available, but Brack said the parish enjoys the opportunity to drop off the shoes at VNU “because it benefits VNU as well as Soles4Souls as it gives employment opportunities to their residents.”
Parishioner Marcia Dawson helps out with the local shoe collection efforts and hopes the parish can collect between 300 and 400 pairs of shoes in 2016, similar to the amount collected in past years. She sees Souls4Souls as an easy and worthwhile project with very little expense involved. “Everyone has shoes they can get rid of, so it’s a great project for the whole family.”