They don’t want your money; they want your old soles.
The Junior Optimist Club at Westhaven Elementary hopes to help provide clean drinking water by collecting 1,500 pairs of gently used shoes, which they will turn over to Solea Water and the Shoeman Project. Solea finances its water improvement projects by selling donated shoes.
Teacher and Junior Optimist sponsor Marie Davis said the club wanted a specific kind of outlet for their efforts this year.
“We wanted to bring in things from the community that we already had, that wouldn’t cost,” Davis said.
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“We’re helping people that may need it more than we do,” said Abbi Kuykendall, 12, referring to alternatives where gently used shoes might end up, such as garage sales.
The project became an immediate hit.
Two members of the club — Garrett Shanks and Enza Sanna — went to a fall school board meeting to talk about the project.
“That’s weird,” said Abbi, because Enza is generally more reserved.
“I was kind of scared,” Enza said of the board meeting. “I talked to them about the shoe drive and the food drive.”
The board quickly responded with shoe donations in the fall, even though the drive didn’t start until two weeks ago, Davis said.
The Optimist Club has more than 900 pairs of shoes, which club members sort and pack upon arriving at school in the morning. It usually takes “just a few minutes” Davis said, but on Thursday, it took longer because she had picked up more boxes from other schools. Other Belleville District 118 schools participating are Union, Henry Raab and Washington School.
The students divided the shoes into bags of 50 — easy to carry, but also easy to count.
“At first we did it at 40, then we started losing count,” said 12-year-old IKaria Johnson.
The goal of 1,500 isn’t pulled from thin air, Abbi said. It’s about two pairs of shoes from each Westhaven student.
“There are people donating about 20 pairs — if not more,” she said of the response.
The Shoeman Group can’t take slippers or skates; and the Optimist Club has set aside at least two new pairs of shoes for students in need at Westhaven. Otherwise, it’s all going to Shoeman, to cash in for water projects.
“I have other people getting shoes, too,” with donation boxes at adult workplaces, Garrett said.
For many of the club members, charitable acts are already ingrained.
“My mom donates lots of clothes and old shoes. She doesn’t like wasting things,” IKaria said. “I learned (service) at home and here.”
Abbi and Garrett are involved in charities through her soccer program and his horse rescue group.
“This young man, I believe, will give his life to the needy and to service,” Davis said of Garrett.