It started as a simple idea, and resulted in new friendships, shared stories, a renewed sense of community, and a profound awareness that we often have more in common than we realize.
The idea was to collect used, gently worn, or even new shoes to provide inventory to struggling entrepreneurs, men and women, in other lands who are striving to create micro-businesses to support themselves and their families.
A secondary goal was to help protect God’s beautiful creation by saving shoes that would typically just be tossed into the waste stream and giving them a second chance.
And so the effort began. First, church members were encouraged to go through their closets. Then friends were encouraged. Then friends of friends. Soon there were collection boxes set up around the Lowcountry in places not customarily expected – restaurants, ballrooms and fire stations.
Shoes started being donated. Even people from other states, hearing of the project, made a point to bring shoes to donate as they made their way to the Lowcountry for holidays and vacations.
But more than the shoes, stories were also donated and shared. There were stories of life partners and spouses who had left this reality through death, but had left behind their shoes. Sometimes with tears, boxes of shoes, carefully tended to with respect, were turned over to give the shoes – and those who would receive them – a second chance.
Other stories caused smiles and laughter to erupt as the tale of how the shoes came to be purchased but never dared to be worn due to extreme mistakes in size estimation, practicality and, more often, a failure of fashion sensibility.
One shoe of a donated pair was worn on the heal and outer part of the sole, while the other appeared hardly used at all. The person giving them shared the story of how an accident had resulted in the loss of his leg, and the continual struggle of wearing out one shoe and not the other.
In receiving, sorting and bagging the hundreds of shoes that were donated, it was clear that each had a story – most untold or remaining hidden.
What was not hidden, what became evident, was how people of varied backgrounds, experiences and beliefs can join together to be part of something a little bigger than themselves. We can, at least for a while, put aside all those things that try and push us apart, and we can share what we have in common – stories, memories, empathy, commitment … and shoes.
Pete Berntson is the pastor of Church of the Palms United Methodist Church in Okatie.