By Sara Kraft
ST. JOSEPH – For the 14th year, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph is gearing up for school to start well ahead of the community. They are already collecting shoes for their annual “Soles for Christ” campaign where they ask parishioners to bring new in the box shoes of all sizes and colors for students age preschool to high school.
“Our whole goal is to make the kids feel better the first day of school,” explains Connie Newton, who spearheads the drive for Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. When she was a teacher, Connie saw children showing off their new shoes on the first day of school. There was always one child who was embarrassed they didn’t have a new pair of shoes. Having a new pair of shoes helps them keep that dignity. “It really helps families in St. Joseph. There is a lot of poverty.” Connie mentioned the drive is particularly helpful for families with multiple children.
In early August, the new shoes are given out through AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) Community Services. Distribution begins at 8 am. Starting at midnight the night before, families begin to line up in their cars to ensure their children will receive a pair of shoes.
It is not just the shoes that matter. “The first year or two we were surprised to learn the kids wanted a shoebox with a lid. They had never had a new pair of shoes,” Connie explained. Most had only received hand-me-downs or second hand store finds for shoes. The volunteers work hard to give the parents and children several choices in their size and to have extra shoeboxes on hand for those shoes that may not have been donated with shoeboxes.
After collecting shoes, Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners sort them by size, and take price tags off before taking them to the local AFL CIO Community Services, which serves the underprivileged in the area. This organization distributes the shoes to children in the community. The goal of the program is to enable children in the community to have a new pair of shoes to start the school year. Last year, a total of 1,179 pairs of shoes were given away to students in Andrew, Buchanan and Doniphan Counties. Approximately 250 pairs of those shoes came from Our Lady of Guadalupe. These may be the only new shoes these children receive.
The program began in 2003 as the brain child of the Our Lady of Guadalupe social justice ministry team, Faith in Action. The goal of the ministry team is to engage Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners in their responsibility as Catholics to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy.
Now, the project has expanded to over twenty local area churches and businesses, including St. Francis Xavier Parish and Cathedral Parish in St. Joseph. Since 2003, the program has given out 10,295 pairs of shoes.
“We continue to grow in awareness. The Gospel mandates us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. While we don’t have a food pantry at Our Lady of Guadalupe, we are just as responsible (as other parishes) to provide for their needs,” explained Our Lady of Guadalupe Pastoral Associate Kathy Powers who oversees the Faith In Action Team.
In May 2016, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish was honored with the David G. Berger Community Service Award by local agency InterServ (Interfaith Community Services) for their continued generosity to the greater St. Joseph community. In addition to the Soles for Christ campaign, they also continually collect food for distribution by the area Catholic food pantries, spearhead the “What Can You Do for a Child Today” drive which gathers easily prepared food for children’s lunches during the summer months, gather items for the Title 1 public school clothes closets through “Sock it to Poverty” and maintain a large Thanksgiving food drive. Additionally, they help at the Open Door Food kitchen one or two times a month and take missions to Pine Ridge Indian reservation.
“We can’t rest on our laurels. We need to continue to learn about the needs of our community in St. Joseph and be more present to them. It challenges us to grow as Catholics,” explained Kathy Powers.