About 100 parishioners from St. Bridget, River Falls, teamed up to cut donated blue jeans into shoes for Ugandans.

About 100 parishioners from St. Bridget, River Falls, teamed up to cut donated blue jeans into shoes for Ugandans. “Tessa Schuermann, Coordinator of Teen Faith Formation and Discipleship, discovered Sole Hope while researching new service project ideas for high school students,” said youth minister Elizabeth Camber. (Submitted photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Nearly 300 toddlers will have shoes thanks to one parish’s effort to clothe the naked.

About 100 parishioners attended a shoe-cutting party March 6 at St. Bridget, River Falls. The event was a fundraiser for Sole Hope, a nonprofit Christian organization that provides shoes for children and adults in Uganda.

Jiggers, small sand fleas, can burrow into feet and lay eggs, causing infection and paralysis. Although wearing shoes prevents jiggers, many Ugandans cannot afford footwear.

Sole Hope’s mission is to combat the problem. In addition to providing medical relief for sufferers, the charity promotes shoe-cutting parties, where volunteers cut their donated blue jeans into shoe uppers and milk jugs into semi-circles to serve as heel supports.

Shoes and supports are then mailed to the charity, which pays Ugandan tailors and shoemakers to sew and attach them to soles fashioned from donated tires. Each pair costs $10 to make, $6 of which is paid in local wages.

Elizabeth Camber, youth minister at St. Bridget, said this is the first parish-wide shoe-cutting party, although a pilot version for teens took place in December. Teens who attended the earlier event returned to help with organization and child care at the March gathering.

“We specifically planned this event during Lent,” Camber explained. “This year is the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis called for mercy to be celebrated and experienced in a particular way during Lent. With this event, we gathered together as a parish to perform a Corporal Work of Mercy: clothe the naked.”

Parishioners brought scissors, milk jugs or plastic folders and jeans – from their closets or a thrift store – to the Sunday event. They cut 150 pairs of size 11 toddler shoes in three-and-a-half hours, according to Camber, and some parishioners continued their work at home. Ultimately, they collected 281 pairs of shoes, more than $3,000 in cash donations, and coloring books and medical supplies for the people of Uganda. Children also contributed by decorating the cut-outs with fabric paint.

Camber said the event brought the parish together.

“It was really neat to witness the fellowship that was happening at each table as parishioners who don’t always cross paths outside of Mass came together to serve side-by-side,” she said. “We had donuts and pizza available, and some people brought other food to add to our lunch. We prayed over all of the shoes and other donations before we shipped them off. They’ve all been sprinkled with holy water, and we asked St. Crispin, the patron of shoemakers, to pray for us.”

There are also shoes for special needs, like the one you can find for flat feet shoes at ShoeFinale.

Camber hopes other parishes will go to www.solehope.org and get involved. All they have to do to get started is buy a shoe-cutting packet, which Camber said does not necessarily need to reflect the number of participants – St. Bridget spent $30 on a 25-person party packet. The packet includes a DVD, templates and instructions.

“We would love to see parishes across our diocese put #mercyinmotion through this organization,” Camber added. “It’s a great way to help thousands of children while ensuring fair wages for the workers and recycling jeans, milk jugs, and tires.

“Our event was a great success,” she said, “and we hope to make this an annual service project event.”