Throughout the years, Buckner Shoe for Orphan Souls has partnered with many people to provide shoes for vulnerable children around the world, but Rotary District 6040 has been committed to children the longest.
For the last 18 years, Rotary District 6040 in North Missouri has collected over 320,000 pairs of shoes among all their clubs to give to Shoes for Orphan Souls. Larry Lunsford was district governor in 2001 and looking for a humanitarian international project the Rotary district could do together. When he discovered Shoes for Orphan Souls, he knew it was the perfect service project for rotarians.
The first year, they had a goal to collect 2,600 pairs of shoes – one pair of shoes for every rotarian in their district. What
they actually collected was 7,000 shoes. It has only grown from there, now averaging about 16,000 pairs of shoes annually.
But what makes their collection even more unique is the actual way they collect the shoes.
Instead of having 56 clubs drop off shoes at a central location, a group of rotarians caravan with a 53-foot trailer to all the communities throughout North Missouri and pick up the shoe donations.
“The project is certainly admittedly large in scale,” Lunsford said. “But there was just something interesting and special about the dynamic of actually traveling to the Rotary communities. It reinforces their service. It reinforces their rotary club and it reinforces their community. And it’s really neat to pull up in a 53-foot trailer in one of the local communities and see those community members come out and realize there’s really meaning behind all this work.”
For four days in the spring, the shoe caravan makes over 15 stops throughout Northern Missouri to pick up shoes donated by the Rotary district. The days start early and end late. The trip is grueling, but for those who participate in the caravan, it’s their favorite time of the year.
“Our caravan stops are a hoot. You never know what you’re going to find,” said driver John Gill. “But this project is so near to my heart. The reason I do it is for the kids. You want to help the kids but we have this concept of gathering shoes and doing it together as a district. It’s the shoestring of our district. This shoe project is what holds our clubs together and being able to caravan and pick up the shoes.”
And it’s something they don’t intend to stop doing.
“It just continues my interest to continue to serve as the shoes cheerleader for Rotary District 6040,” Lunsford said. “And we’re looking forward to our 20th anniversary or even our 25th anniversary. This caravan has continued to show me that our Rotary clubs are in this project for the long haul and we keep looking forward to continuing to collect new shoes for orphans and vulnerable children with Shoes for Orphan Souls.”