Collecting 1.3 Million Shoes for Charity

“We have the responsibility to receive the truth when we are confronted with it,” George “The Shoeman” Hutchings told a group of about 30 kids and adults at the Ethical Society of Mid Rivers, Missouri meeting May 15.

Hutchings was there to explain how he developed a grassroots organization to provide footwear and clean drinking water to people in underdeveloped nations.

Hutchings was a Marine sergeant, earning a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam. After being wounded and flown to Alaska, he was touched by the simple act of a nurse placing a blanket over him. That was the first “truth” Hutchings said he opened himself up to. He then went on to seminary school and worked on several humanitarian projects.

In 1998, he was in Kenya delivering 30,000 pairs of shoes to orphans and refugees. Later he worked in an African town with a medical center that had no water, yet delivered two infants within 20 minutes of each other. This is when Hutchings put two and two together and came up with the idea to collect and sell old shoes in order to provide water drilling rigs to poor areas in Kenya.

In 2008, Shoeman Water Projects was born. Since then, the organization has collected more than 1.3 million pairs of shoes from donors at schools, churches and businesses.  Hutchings sells the shoes for 35 cents a pound to people who distribute them to be sold by locals.

He uses the money to buy water rigs to drill wells in towns in Africa and Haiti where there is no clean, available water source. The first rig built was at a school in Kenya that had not had water for 10 years due to a broken handle on the only water pump. Shoeman Water Projects also trains local repair staff to maintain the rigs.

According to Hutchings, shoes are almost as important as water because walking on bare feet can cause people to get worms and other parasites that can make them sick. Hutchings showed a slide show of the people he has come to know during his visits to Kenya and other countries. One photo showed a 3-year-old boy holding two jugs as he walked to a dirty watering hole to gather water for his family.

Hutchings’ project has created several sustainable micro-businesses for the local people to sell the shoes at roadside stands and maintain the wells.

The children at the meeting were inspired by Hutchings’ compassion and dedication. “I thought it was cool what he was doing, giving away shoes and fresh water,” said 8-year-old Katherine Johnson, who brought shoes collected at her school, Mount Hope Elementary.

“It was moving that he would do that when obviously most people wouldn’t even think of it,” said Elisabeth Johnson, 11. Johnson and other children at the meeting collected about 1,300 pounds of shoes to donate to the project.

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