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Shoe drive will provide clean water in Kenya

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POSTED: January 6, 2012 9:26 a.m.
Photo provided by Shoeman Water Projects/

Previous shoe donations are on sale at a roadside market in Haiti, where the Shoeman Water Projects recently expanded its efforts. Shoes often are difficult to obtain at an affordable price in many countries.

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A local civic organization has completed about 10 percent of a daunting mission: turning shoes into water.

 Now, the Hinesville Rotary Club is asking for community support with a drive where shoes will be donated to Shoeman Water Projects, which sells the shoes through microenterprise to businesses in developing countries and uses the profits to provide clean water to villages in Kenya.

For Liberty County Health Department administrator and Rotarian Deidre Howell, who brought the drive to the group’s attention in August, the project’s benefits are bountiful.

“Folks trying to start a business get the products they need to sell, folks who need shoes can buy them real cheap, and folks who need water get water,” she said. “Plus, donating old shoes doesn’t cost anybody anything — except when I get rid of one pair of shoes, I buy two pairs to replace the one I gave away.”

Shoeman Water Projects, a nonprofit charity coordinated through the Missouri group Eagle Wings Ministries, was founded in 2008 by George “the Shoeman” Hutchings. Since then, it has collected more than 1.5 million pairs of shoes, according to the group’s website, www.shoeman.org.

“We probably have about 1,000 pairs,” Howell said. “But to buy a well, we need 15,000 pairs, so we have a long way to go.”

Once the club reaches 15,000, Hutchings told Howell he would drive from Missouri to pick up the shoes, she said.

Locally, collections began on a small scale, with the Hinesville Rotary Club requesting its members to provide at least two pairs of shoes during a club meeting.

Since then, multiple businesses, groups and community members have stepped up to help the cause. Some, like the Interact Club at First Presbyterian Christian Academy, have held drives on a smaller scale.

Interact President Michelle Roberts said her group has been collecting shoes from students since September and has sent multiple carloads over to the shoe storage point at the health department office.

“We think we did a really good job,” Roberts said while loading up the school’s final donation Wednesday. “It’s a wonderful cause, and we’re ready to see the outcome of it.”

Another club at South Effingham Middle School also donated about 140 pairs of shoes, and 2011 Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Kevin Thomas donated a portable storage unit for the drive.

“It’s amazing how much room 1,200 shoes take up,” Health Department Family Connection coordinator David Floyd said while helping Interact members load the shoes. In addition to the storage unit, a 12-foot-by-12-foot office at the health department also is filled to the brim with shoes.

A local mission organization, African Orphaned and Abandoned Children’s Fund, also has gotten involved with the drive. Missionaries Peggy and Joe Rayman currently are on a mission trip working with refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, with support from the Rotary club, which sponsored the trip with $2,000 in food and medical supplies for relief workers, Howell said.

“While they are there, they will be looking at several villages and will made some recommendations to Shoeman on where to put the well that our Hinesville/Liberty County shoes will eventually buy,” she added.

Shoeman spokesman Marjorie Pingel said the drives nationwide have multiplied lately and tend to become viral. And while she has not yet been to one of the Kenyan villages, she said she’s heard stories that the village members are elated to have clean water.

“From what I understand, there is always a celebration … from some of the things I’ve read, it’s, like, better than candy for these kids,” she said.

The recipients hold celebrations with feasting and dancing when they receive the wells, which are placed in areas like schools and medical centers, where water is highly needed and also publicly accessible.

“You know, it seems so basic to us, but (these are) people who haven’t really had access to clean water,” Pingel said.
While he thanked those involved for their efforts, Rotary President Jeff Ricketson emphasized that there still is great work to be done before the project comes to fruition.

“We have 1,200 pairs — that’s less than 10 percent of the way,” he said.

 

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