Connie Sieh Groop mugshot

Connie Sieh Groop

Most of us have too many shoes. We have shoes for walking, for church, for dress-up occasions, for the barn and some just for fun.

For many, shoes are a luxury. For some, they get hand-me-downs that don’t fit. Or they may go without.

Most winters, there are collections of coats, hats and mittens for the needy. This year, I learned 4-Hers are looking for new and gently used shoes that will benefit others, not only in our state but in developing countries.

Reaching out to help others through community service is a basic tenet for 4-Hers. When I grew up, we painted trashcans to place along the roadsides to keep America beautiful. Our kids cleaned ditches and sung Christmas carols at nursing homes. These projects embrace and establish a desire in young people to reach out to others, not only in our state but internationally.

Hilary Risner, regional 4-H Youth Program advisor in Rapid City, works with young people to develop leadership skills. Each year, young people from across the state gather in Brookings for the Teen Leadership Conference. Planning committee members of this conference propose a statewide service project for 4-Hers.

Last year, “One of the 4-H Youth Council members shared information about Soles4Souls. The teen delegates of the conference ultimately voted to tackle the project, setting a state-wide goal of collecting 10,000 pairs of shoes,” Risner said. “Soles4Souls is a nonprofit organization company based in Nashville, Tenn. Since its start in 2006, Soles4Souls has distributed more than 30 million pairs of shoes across the U.S. and to 127 countries. In our state, Flandreau Indian School has received shipments of shoes.”

Taylor McMartin is a current state 4-H ambassador and was one of those on the 4-H Youth Council. “I feel like Soles4Souls is a great service project is a way for South Dakota 4-H to make an impact on the world,” she said. “We are able to help children around the world and make contact with those not in 4-H around the United States.”

“The possibility of global and national impact appealed to the group. It has a three-fold approach to wearing out poverty,” Risner said.

The first prong is collecting the shoes. The second is providing the shoes to individuals where they can start a micro-enterprise in developing countries, such as Haiti, Central America and parts of Africa. It will create jobs and provide the currency that can provide meals to families or allow a parent to send their kids to school. The final prong brings the group into the local community to distribute new shoes. That will have a huge impact.

The campaign that South Dakota 4-H has chosen to participate in is called Ten2Give Shoe Drive.

Risner explained once they meet the goal of collecting 10,000 pairs of shoes, “the organization will come to South Dakota for a new shoe distribution to a non-profit of our choice. They provide quality shoes that will last recipients a long time.”

“We are pushing to gather as many as we can by mid-May,” Risner told me. “Delegates will pair up the shoes and ship them to Soles4Soles during our annual conference June 3-7 where 110-130 kids will gather in Brookings. We will continue to collect shoes until August.” TLC is open to any high-schoolers in the state who wish to increase their leadership skills.

The group will take all types of shoes, whether new or gently used. They don’t want ones covered in mud or ones with holes in the toes.

“Young kids grow out of shoes quickly,” Risner said. “Youth shoes are a big hit. And sometimes adults change their minds after wearing shoes a few times.”

Boxes for the drive are at SDSU Extension Regional Centers across the state, county 4-H offices and the state 4-H office in Brookings. We spread the word that our Community Store in Frederick is collecting shoes for the drive. As our box overflowed with shoes, I took 25 pairs to the Aberdeen Regional Extension center. Risner said counties are already seeing a good response and pushing to the goal of 10,000 shoes seems within reach.

Look in your closet. Pull out those shoes you bought but never wore, the ones you wore a few times but didn’t like. Help our 4-Hers reach their goal that helps others. One pair of used shoes equals a new opportunity and can help disrupt the cycle of poverty.

Connie Sieh Groop is a freelance ag writer from Frederick, S.D., and can be reached at conniegroop19@gmail.com.

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