SOLON– When it comes to community service, a handful of Solon High School students have created some mighty big shoes to fill.
When sophomores Kaytee Berstler, Sydney Gerdts, Kaitlin Hatcher, Taylor Nearad, Lake Reyhons and Jake Singkofer found themselves with time on their hands during the school day, they set about looking for a cause to support. Principal’s secretary Kim Blankenheim suggested they research an organization she had heard about called Soles4Souls, a charity that recycles shoes to be donated to those in need in the United States and more than 125 other countries.
The group took the idea and ran with it.
“I know a lot of kids who have unused shoes,” said Gerdts. “We started collecting shoes during the winter.”
The non-profit Soles4Souls organization accepts donations of new and gently worn shoes to distribute them to children and adults around the world. When the Solon students began collecting shoes in December, they put donation boxes in the school and sent out a plea to school staff, parents and the community for their unworn footwear. Since then, working nearly every day during their open seminar times, they have packaged approximately 250 pairs of shoes to be sent to Sheldon, the nearest Soles4Souls warehousing facility.
Now they are collecting cash to pay for shipping them. The students anticipate it might cost around $50 per box of shoes, and they expect to ship 25 to 30 boxes.
A recent bake sale netted the group $111 to put toward shipping costs.
They have a ways to go, and have therefore extended their deadline for collections until the end of April.
Meanwhile, the project has given them new perspectives.
“Going without shoes can lead to health problems, like elephantiasis or contracting certain types of ground worms,” Gerdts noted.
Nearad said now, as she drives by and sees other students walking to school, she thinks about people who might have to make that trek without shoes.
“It makes me feel good to know that some people will have shoes because of us,” Nearad said. Hatcher agreed.
“Sometimes, I think we (in Solon) don’t realize there are people who don’t have as much as we do,” Hatcher said. “It’s an easy thing to donate unwanted shoes. You always hear of can drives or food drives, but not shoe drives. This was a creative way to give back, and helping out those less fortunate.”
Singkofer said he has learned from Solon vocal music instructor Joel Foreman about the value of community service.
“We like giving back to the community. Mr. Foreman says it builds the community and makes it stronger, which makes us all stronger,” said Singkofer.
Berstler said the project prompted her to think about how fortunate many in the Solon community really are, including herself.
“It came to me how much of a luxury it is to even have shoes, let alone several pairs of them,” said Berstler. “It was a moral thing to do. Helping out someone else is a good feeling.”
It’s not too late to donate gently-worn shoes, and they need not be in pairs, Gerdts said. “They also take single shoes, because there are people who have only one foot, and they also can take shoes and recycle them into clean, green energy.”
Blankenheim said working together has taught the group what it takes to make a project successful. It has been a learning process, she added.
“They understand more about planning and thinking ahead,” Blankenheim said. “Doing the collection was one thing, but then they had to think about raising funds for the shipping. They set such an ambitious goal– 1,000 pairs– and they had to decide what they would do with them meanwhile, and how they would send so many. That took some problem solving, too.”
The students were good at dividing responsibilities and each taking on a share of the work, Blankenheim said.
“These are very community-service minded guys and gals,” she said. “They’ve just shown that they care about others inside and outside of the community.”
To donate shoes or help fund the expense of shipping, visit the Solon High School office. Donations will be accepted until April 30.
“It’s an easy way for anyone to give back,” said Hatcher.