By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Last year Walt Tabory, then sixth grade religion teacher at St. Peter’s School in Kansas City, received an email that spawned an idea.
Jill Hathaway, whose son Paul was one of Tabory’s students, then owned Hathaway Shoes in Waldo. She emailed Tabory regarding Soles4Souls, a program of collecting gently used or new shoes, and donating them to the less fortunate. Hathaway had begun giving discounts for new shoes to customers who brought in a gently used pair for Soles4Souls.
Soles 4Souls was born in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. Wayne Elsey, the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization, felt compelled to do something, but didn’t know what. One night while watching TV, he saw a photograph of a single shoe washing up on the beach. That triggered a few phone calls to some other footwear executives and the subsequent donation of 250,000 pairs of shoes to tsunami victims. He repeated the phone calls after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of this country and was overwhelmed by the response. In 2005, the non-profit Soles4Souls was established to help the poor all over the globe.
Tabory decided to have his students collect shoes, either gently used or new, and donate them to Hathaway Shoes for Soles4 Souls as a Christmas project. The student and family response was so great that he decided to repeat the project this year, during Catholic Schools Week.
This year, Tabory’s students decided to donate the collected shoes to a local charity, and selected Operation Breakthrough, a daycare and early childhood learning center serving needy children and families in Midtown Kansas City.
On Feb. 10, Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Berta Sailer, co-director and co-founder of Operation Breakthrough, arrived in the agency’s van to St. Peter’s to pick up 780 pairs of shoes collected and boxed up by the students.
Tabory said the average American adult owns 19 pairs of shoes. Kids often outgrow their shoes before they wear them out. “Our students set aside the weekend before Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 27-29, to go through their family’s closets and to ask friends and relatives to go through theirs and see what could be donated. Some of our students went to discount and clearance stores to buy new shoes.”
Sister Berta told St. Peter’s students how welcome the shoes would be for Operation Breakthrough families. “Some of our families are living and sleeping in their cars,” she said, “because they have no home. Some have homes but they have no furniture, no beds, so they sleep on the floor. Many of our mothers and fathers work, but they have no money. In the worry and rush of daily life, people tend to forget to think about the other guy. The shoes will be a blessing for our families. Thank you!”
Seventh graders helped Sister Berta load the van, and off she went, to distribute the shoes to families who needed them. But before she left, she opened a box of shoes, pulled out and displayed a brand new, tiny pair of pink tennis shoes, just the thing to thrill a little girl.
Tabory said the Junior High religion classes saw the shoe collecting, sorting and organizing as a way of meeting the real needs of real people in real time. “For them, generosity begins at home, as does their faith, which reminds them of Jesus’ call to help those in need. Most of my students tell me, ‘It’s just common sense; it’s the right thing to do.’”
Catholic Social Teaching calls Catholics to work for justice, he said, along with charitable donations. Working for justice means trying to change conditions that lead people to needing charity, like donated shoes, in the first place. Parents modeling and teaching generosity at home, he added, as well as volunteering, has a huge influence on how their children spend their time.
Operation Breakthrough, 3039 Troost, helps children who are living in poverty in Kansas City develop to their fullest potential by providing them a safe, loving and educational environment. It also strives to assist their families through advocacy, referral services and emergency aid. For more information about Operation Breakthrough, call Sister Berta or Sister Corita Bussanmas, co-directors, (816) 756-3511.