What started as a simple idea to collect a few pairs of unused and unwanted shoes has rapidly grown into an amazing ministry in Cokesbury, NJ. Soles4Souls, a non-profit social enterprise that creates sustainable jobs and provides relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing around the world, has distributed more than 30 million pairs of new and gently-worn shoes in 127 countries.
A challenge was issued to the small congregation at Cokesbury UMC: each member was asked to donate one pair of their own shoes and one pair of shoes from someone living in a different household.
"There was no defined goal in this collection," said CUMC member Paul Klitsch, issuer of the challenge. "I thought I'd just put it out there and see what happened. I figured that most people here had shoes in the backs of their closets they forgot about, no longer fit, or just didn't need anymore; why not put them to good use? My thinking was that if we could collect fifty pairs of shoes, it would be a huge success."
The challenge was issued in late March, 2018 and shoes started to come in immediately. About a month later, through word of mouth, a connection was made with a local thrift store. Shoes that were donated to the thrift store and were not sold were set aside for the UMC collection.
On Sunday, June 10 at Cokesbury UMC, all 740 pairs that had been collected were placed on the altar in boxes, bags and piles for a special "Blessing of the Shoes" by Pastor Lynn Mears.
"The mountain of shoes on the altar was amazing!" said Mears. "I had to navigate around the heaps just so I could see the congregation. I loved it!"
Then on June 12, the first delivery to the S4S drop off point in Franklin, Sussex County was made. Donations of shoes kept coming in from the congregation and their friends, relatives, co-workers, the community and the thrift store. Less than two months after the June 12 delivery, on August 14, another 840 pairs of shoes made the trip to the collection center in Franklin.
Presently the collection shows no signs of slowing down. An October 24 delivery of 420 pairs of shoes brought the total delivered to 3,635 pairs.
Before delivery, the shoes are matched and rubber-banded. Shoes with laces can be tied together, and placed in large plastic trash bags, as preferred by Soles4Souls workers at the warehouse in Franklin. There, the shoes are graded, sorted and packaged for shipping to Haiti, Honduras, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and many other places around the world where S4S supports micro-enterprise operations. Utilizing the Souls4Souls 'impact formula' for shoe donations, the 3,635 pairs donated so far converts into 18,175 meals, or 145 years of shelter for a family, or 121 semesters of education.
In addition, Cokesbury UMC is now listed on the S4S website as a small donation (12 pairs or less) collection site.
Paul Kiltsch, Cokesbury UMC website
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are Engaging in ministry with the poor with their communities in ways that are transformative.