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Drive for Success: Missouri Rotarians keep trucking for shoes

Editor’s note: This year marked the 11th consecutive year Rotary International District 6040 in Missouri collected shoes for Shoes for Orphan Souls®. For the past three years, the shoes have been collected throughout the district in a “shoe caravan.” This year, Buckner vice president of communications and Missouri native Scott Collins tagged along on the caravan to capture the spirit and excitement of the Rotarians.

Story and photography by Scott Collins

There are shoe drives, and then there is the Missouri shoe drive. For 12 years, Buckner has prompted and promoted the idea of organizations hosting and holding shoe “drives” – campaigns to collect shoes for Shoes for Orphan Souls, the largest humanitarian aid project of Buckner International.

But three years ago, Larry Lunsford and John Gill decided to take the idea literally. The pair organized a Shoe Caravan, driving an 18-wheeler across Rotary District 6040 and picking up shoes donated by local Rotary clubs. Gill, who was the district governor that year, along with Lunsford, the originator of the district’s involvement with Buckner and the annual “shoes cheerleader,” canvassed and crisscrossed northwest Missouri, from Kansas City to the north central part of the state and back home.

The drive

Gill donated and drove the tractor to pull the trailer and Lunsford organized the details of the trip. A friend of Gill, Mark Mathis, donated the trailer through his company, Vanguard. At nearly every stop, Rotarians are joined by local media and volunteers who hoist the shoes into the back of the truck in a spirit that is part competitive and part giddiness. Each stop wants to know how many shoes the previous stop produced and in the end, everyone is excited by the grand total.

The caravan stops at town squares, truck stops, shopping centers, and even a dry cleaners. With shoes coming from Unionville and Memphis to Gallatin and Chillicothe, the truck slowly fills up before Gill and Lunsford turn for Lee’s Summit, a Kansas City suburb hosting this year’s district conference.

On Saturday morning, as the roll call of clubs takes place, the scene is reminiscent of an old-time political convention, with representatives from each club proudly announcing the total number of shoes, socks, and cash raised, punctuated with a note of pride about the community itself.

When the roll call was over and the back of the truck closed on the 2012 drive, 14,292 pairs of shoes, 1,415 pairs of socks, 18 pairs of shoelaces, and well over $12,000 in cash had been collected and was sent to Buckner in Dallas. Since the district’s first drive in 2001, a total of 221,737 pairs of shoes have been donated to Shoes for Orphan Souls, along with nearly $90,000 in cash. According to independent fundraising standards, the total value of Rotary District 6040’s contributions the past 11 years exceeds $4.5 million, with no sign of letting up.

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