Soles Shaping Souls
What do you think about when you look a pair of new shoes? You might look at a pair of boots and think of how they would look nice with a pair of dark wash jeans, or you might become baffled at how much a pair of name brand tennis shoes cost. For Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls, a Christ-center ministry of nonprofit Buckner International, there is so much more to them than the looks or cost.
For Buckner, it can literately change a child’s life. “So many kids have been helped by this organization” says Rachel Wallis, the program director of Buckner’s Shoes for Orphan Souls. “It has helped generations and it is very transformative.”
The ministry was first developed at the end of the Cold War era, during a time when third world countries were at their limit. None were struggling more so than the orphanages, who were overflowing with children that needed help. That is where KCBI, a radio station located in Dallas, came in.
“Ron Harris, the man in charge of the radio station, was serving in Russia at the time,” Rachel explained. “Information would come in from these third world countries of what they need, and he would collect shoes and donations via radio stations.”
“Donations continued to pour in, and it started to become overwhelming for the radio station,” Rachel continued. “That’s when Buckner took over.”
At Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls, their mission is to ensure that each child is equipped with a new pair of shoes. When a child receives a pair of new, unworn shoes it also provides them with a healthy life, a chance at an education, and a sense of hope. Especially in third world countries, where children typically walk across marshy and rugged land to get water or go to school.
Which is why, according to Rachel, the majority of the donations they receive go to developing countries. “The United States has a more robust safety net,” she explained. “Whereas in other countries it is almost controversial to send the donations.”
July 2021 will mark the 25th anniversary of Buckner International serving vulnerable children in Midland and the Permian Basin, as the nonprofit assumed operations of the Hearthstone Emergency Shelter in 1996.
While the presence of Buckner in Midland predates the existence of Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls, the program has since become one of the more celebrated causes in the area. The first Buckner shoe drive in the Permian Basin was held in 2008 and since then, more than 4,000 pairs of new shoes have been collected from the community.
Each year, the shoe collections help to provide new shoes and socks for approximately 125 children in Buckner programs like foster care and adoption and Buckner Family Pathways. The remaining donated shoes help children in need across Texas and even internationally.
Another way that Buckner tries to spread awareness is to get kids in the United States involved, and one way to do this is with the Shoes for Orphan Souls Birthday Club. In this birthday program, children have the chance to have a different kind of birthday. Instead of receiving presents, the children register online then ask friends and family members to give them new shoes so that it can be given to Buckner. The kids who arranged the shoe drive would receive a t-shirt and a certificate acknowledging the donation to Buckner. Once the donations are sent to the warehouse, they are then checked over, packaged, and shipped to where they are needed most either in the U.S. or in the developing countries.
Due to COVID-19, however, many families have been social distancing and not having large birthday parties. As a way to step around this obstacle, the ministry has created ways for others to send donations.
“People can still join the Birthday Club and donate,” Rachel reasoned. “They can send monetary donations in its place. We also have a registry through Amazon and can even send it on behalf of someone’s birthday.”
Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls is also taking extra precautions to lessen the spread of the virus. In addition to creating a contactless drop off at ministry’s warehouse, the donations are placed in bins where they set for two weeks before being sent to locations with the most need. Upon entering the donation site, volunteers not only wear a mask but also have their temperatures check upon entering the warehouse.
Rachel explains further that the virus has really slowed things down for the ministry. The problem is not that donations aren’t coming in. It’s that there aren’t enough volunteers to help them; in fact, there haven’t been any volunteers since March.
Once again, they have developed a way for others to volunteer even from home. “People can volunteer virtually or even write notes to send along with the shoes,” Rachel said, providing examples of ways others can help. “We want the kids to know that the shoes come from a real person.” †