U of L students witness the stunning results of their shoe drive

We’ve asked guest blogger Jerome Soldo to share his experiences hosting a shoe drive for WaterStep in the blog post below.  Read this inspirational story about how a few students engaged their community to make a huge impact on our organization.
Greetings from Louisville, KY,
My name is Jerome Soldo and I just finished my freshman year at the University of Louisville.  This semester, my peers and I initiated a shoe drive on campus and in the community to fundraise for WaterStep.  We had no idea how fun and rewarding our efforts would become, and we never could have imagined the support we have received from fellow students, university faculty, and community members.  I write this blog to document our efforts at U of L and to recognize those who have given both time and their shoe racks to our philanthropy.  Ultimately, I write this blog to describe why we became involved with WaterStep and to call readers to action to augment our efforts for this fantastic organization and its sustainable mission.

Jerome at the Kentucky Derby Marathon
Jerome at the Kentucky Derby Marathon

First, a little bit of a back-story
Earlier this year in February, I sat at a meeting table with other members of the University of Louisville’s Engage Lead Serve Board, an umbrella organization that facilitates student engagement with the community, encourages students to explore their passions, and acts as a network for student involvement and service.  Our specific committee on the board is called Global Initiatives, and that evening our agenda included establishing a signature service project for the spring semester.
We were brainstorming a project that could satisfy our vision of having both a local and global impact as well as advocating for a global issue on which we could educate other students.  After tossing around ideas for a few minutes, I suddenly remembered the shoe drive I had conducted in high school for EDGE Outreach.  Upon checking online, I learned that the organization had changed its name to WaterStep, moved locations, and greatly expanded.  I was astounded that this had all occurred in one year’s time.
We pored over the site’s grotesque statistics, such as 80% of the world’s sickness is attributable to unsafe water, a child dies every 15 seconds due to water-borne disease, and mothers often do not name their babies until they reach the age of one because in most cases they won’t live that long.  Upon learning the realities of this injustice, our committee decided that we wanted to adopt this organization’s mission as our own and to make it our fight, too. We were enthusiastic about playing a role in WaterStep’s ascent as a non-profit, so I emailed DeeDee, set up a meeting and group tour, and obtained collection bins and informational literature.  Then, we went to work.
The groundwork for success
We began by delegating tasks to multiple committee members and by simultaneously exploring different avenues for donation.  We established a location for collection a central building on campus, and advertised our efforts through the Student Government weekly newsletter, Honors Volunteer Program email list, and by inviting hundreds of friends to a Facebook event.  A committee member initiated a shoe collection at Waggener High in Louisville, and I wrote a letter to be featured in the bulletin to my home parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Hopkinsville, K Y.  A committee member contacted the Louisville Athletics Department, and we soon had three bins in various athletic centers on campus.  As shoes poured in from our various locations, we paired them, placed 25 in each bag, and delivered them in increments to WaterStep’s headquarters (which is conveniently located a mile from campus!).  I must give a special shout out to my college roommate for tolerating our room during the shoe drive, as at one point we had to hop over three tiny mountains of shoes to get from one side of the room to the other!
The stunning reaction of our community
The feedback we received during our shoe drive was nothing short of overwhelming.  Students returned from weekend trips home with bags of their families’ shoes, athletes donated uniform shoes from previous seasons, and all the while we were able to answer donors’ queries about WaterStep, the purpose of our shoe drive, and the world’s need for clean water.  I was shocked to receive a text from my mom that read that my parish had collected hundreds of pairs of shoes in two weeks, and that bins continued to be filled in the coat room of our church.
I was amazed by my parish’s response to my short bulletin submission and the trust that they showed me with their donation to an organization they had never heard of staffed by people they had never met.  This blind faith was a true inspiration for me, as through it I was able to realize the willingness of people to answer my call to action simply because I had the courage to ask.  The support shown to us roused our committee to continue the shoe drive until the end of the semester and it served as a form of validation for our mission.  To date, we have collected 1,700 pairs of shoes, and we are still regularly approached by donors who ask us to pick up shoes from their homes.  We are confident that we have chosen the right organization and that this selection will be indoctrinated in the framework of our service committee in the future.  I am excited to see how WaterStep expands in the future, and I am optimistic that throughout my college years I will be able to play a unique role in that growth.
A call to action
In conclusion, WaterStep, like every philanthropic organization, is driven by the generosity of others, and there is an unequivocal need for a constant source of income via shoe drive collection or monetary donation so that they can continue fulfilling their sustainable mission of water treatment and community empowerment in under-resourced countries.  I recognize that not everyone has the financial capacity to donate to humanitarian agencies; I personally find it very difficult to ask others for money, even if it supports a great cause such as this.  Nonetheless, there are countless opportunities to donate time and energy.  I’ve found that it has always been remarkably easy to ask for someone’s used shoes and to break down the impact of their donation.  It’s simple to “Like” their page on Facebook, share some information with your friends, or come in one day a month to help sort used shoes in the warehouse.  Or, like me, you could partake in one of WaterStep’s Athletic Events wearing a WaterStep shirt to exhibit the organization for race spectators.)
Nobody can single-handedly quench the world’s thirst for clean water, but everyone can do something to make sure that it is not perpetuated.  I hope my experiential testament mobilizes readers to actively participate in WaterStep’s endeavors and to take on a role of supporter and advocator.  There truly is no better beneficiary for your stewardship.
Best,
Jerome Soldo

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