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Shoes for Orphan Souls

In April, the Missouri Rotary Clubs in District 6110 joined with other Missouri Districts to collect shoes and cash for this project. The following article was submitted by ARPIC Wally Bloss.

Putting themselves in someone else’s shoes is how Rotarians find solutions. For the last 23 years, Rotarians in Missouri have helped to ensure that vulnerable children have access to a necessity in life that most of us take for granted – shoes. The project began in 2001 when Larry Lunsford became Governor of District 6040 and wanted a district-wide project with an international connection. His childhood friend Scott Collins founded the “Shoes for Orphan Souls” project which Collins operated for Buckner International, a Texas non-profit that could provide the know-how and capacity, to help children in Africa and Central America.

Lunsford (who will become Vice Chair of the Rotary Foundation Trustees July 1, 2024) challenged clubs to collect as many pairs as possible of new shoes, socks, shoelaces, and cash to help with shipping and other issues. The collection became an anchor for the work done in the Kansas City and Northern Missouri clubs for the foreseeable future. As Rotary approached its 100th anniversary in 2005, Lunsford invited two other Missouri Districts, 6060 and 6080, covering almost all of the Rotary Clubs in Missouri. That year, they proudly announced the collection of more than 71,000 pairs of shoes.

Lunsford and District 6040 continued their efforts for 20 years, and as the 2023-2024 Rotary year approached, the idea of an All-Missouri effort came up again, with a new wrinkle. District 6110, encompassing 74 Rotary clubs in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and 10 clubs in Missouri, asked to join, making the project truly an “All Missouri” project. The excitement for the “Club Roll Call” at the Lake of the Ozarks “Funvention” in April 2024 was palpable. Rotary International Director Beth Stubbs was there and captured the excitement as every club reported. A total of 43,105 pairs of shoes were collected, along with 16,222 pairs of socks, and 133 shoelaces. In addition, the cash contributions amounted to $56,278. With this year’s efforts, the project has donated over 438,000 shoes!

While District 6040 led the state with 79% of the clubs joining in the project, District 6060 (St. Louis and Eastern Missouri) collected the most pairs of shoes at 19,692. Even newcomer District 6110 collected more than 1,200 pairs. Some individual clubs really stood out like the 20-member Marceline, Missouri club that collected 1,556 pairs, or 78 per member. The 31-member Table Rock/Branson West club accumulated 4,500, and the 46-member Arnold club provided 3,919 pairs.

Why shoes? It fulfills the Maternal and Child Health criteria of the Rotary Foundation. “A pair of shoes is something new for these vulnerable children,” Lunsford said. “A pair of shoes allows children to go to school. A pair of shoes combats disease. A pair of shoes is a gift to an orphan child who rarely gets anything to call their own. I know how impactful this small step of filling a basic need can be. I have personally traveled to orphanages in three countries – Russia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic – to place a new pair of shoes on the feet of a child. I have witnessed the poverty. I have witnessed the need. So it is rewarding to partner with Rotarians in the Rotary Clubs of Missouri to encourage their help.”.

Buckner’s Guatemala official, Victor Lopez noted, “A pair of shoes can be the difference between going to school and not; a pair of shoes is the difference between being healthy and not; a pair of shoes can be the deal maker between finding opportunities and falling behind. For many receiving a pair of shoes is a gift from God; God saying I love you and you matter.”

For Collins, the international project means more than pride in his home state and in the institution of Rotary. “We often count the number of shoes given without remembering that each pair represents a boy or girl,” he said. “Thank you Rotarians for putting the service of others above yourself. Thank you for a statewide effort above and beyond anything we ever expected. And to my lifelong friend Larry Lunsford, the “Shoes Cheerleader:” Words fail me. Your enthusiasm and excitement are contagious and because of you, thousands of children are being served.”