Runners 'Stepping Up' for charity at home and abroad

Runners 'Stepping Up' for charity at home and abroad

If you passed by the window of the She Said Project in downtown Champaign last week, you might have wondered about that bottle of vodka next to a pile of old running shoes.

Turns out the best cleaning solution for old tennis shoes is one part vodka, three parts water. (Our livers must be really clean.)

Why so many shoes?

The She Said Project teamed up with Body n’ Sole and the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon this year for the annual shoe collection during race weekend, which brings in hundreds of donated running shoes for charity.

Part of this year’s haul has already been distributed to a half-dozen local nonprofits, and other shoes are headed to God’s Littlest Angels orphanage in Haiti, where the She Said Project sponsors a mission trip each year.

The shoe drive started in 2012 as a project of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, which ran it for three years in cooperation with the marathon and Body n’ Sole. Jenette Jurczyk, director of development for One Main and now creative director for the She Said Project, was a member of the Junior League committee that got it started.

They collected 500 pairs the first year, Jurczyk said. After the Junior League bowed out three years later — it always spins off its projects to community partners — the marathon and Body n’ Sole kept it alive, but “donations slipped with no organization behind it,” said race co-director Jan Seeley.

This year, Jurczyk and She Said Project founder Kerry Rossow were looking for a way to be involved with the marathon and raise money for the God’s Littlest Angels orphanage in Haiti, founded by Monticello natives John and Dixie Bickel in 1994. The She Said “Soul Journey” mission trip takes local women there to care for children and work on needed projects.

The She Said Project had already signed up to be a marathon charity partner, with a team participating to raise money for the orphanage, and “a light bulb went off in my head: We should run the shoe drive,” Jurczyk said.

The fact that Seeley had participated in the 2015 “That’s What She Said” show made it even more serendipitous.

They called it “She Said Step It Up.” With help from some Junior League volunteers, they collected 375 pairs of shoes, and counting — including more than 60 pairs of brand-new sandals donated by the Junior League.

Some runners showed up with garbage bags full of shoes, and lots of stories. One runner in his 70s was participating in his first Illinois Marathon and his 91st overall. Several reported the low mileage on their donated shoes, like a pair of good used tires.

“It’s such a simple act of donating a pair of shoes, but it can have a profound influence on someone who can use them,” Jurczyk said.

Donors love to give shoes or other tangible items they know will go to good use, Rossow said. But the effort also raised much-needed cash for the orphanage — about $2,600.

“While the shoes are super helpful, this week the kids aren’t having eggs because they don’t have money to buy the eggs,” she said. “What I love about this is that it’s both: You’re giving to people in the community and globally.”

Melany Jackson of C-U at Home showed up at the She Said Project office the Monday after the marathon with a list of men’s names and shoe sizes.

Two staff members from Urbana Adult Education also stopped by to pick out shoes for their students. The program — which educates about 900 people a year in its English as a second language, basic education and certified nursing assistant programs — keeps a “free table” for its students, with donated clothes, shoes, toys and household goods.

“We have students who are homeless, who don’t have food. Some of them have been abused or Blog Photobattered or have something in their past. They may have a fire or something like that. We have all types of need,” said Arlene Anderson, director of student services.

Brenda Rodriguez, who helps students transition to their first jobs after graduation, loaded up on the high-heeled sandals. Most of the program’s students are ages 16 to 25, and the young women often don’t have money to buy nice shoes for graduation or first job interview, she said.

“This is very, very nice,” she said. “This would be perfect for those special occasions.”

As they browsed, a recent CNA graduate of the program, Moseka Mokonzi, happened by on her way to a meeting. She thought it was a shoe store and was thrilled to find out the shoes were free — especially the running shoes for her five daughters.

“I can wear these to church,” she said, modeling a pair of black wedge sandals.

She Said Project organizers have already packed up one suitcase of tennis shoes and sandals for Haiti, and hope to take more. Any leftovers will be given to Body n’ Sole for its year-round shoe collection efforts.

Seeley is thrilled to have a new partner for the marathon shoe drive, and thinks donations will continue to grow now that the She Said Project has taken it on indefinitely.

“I know how passionate these TWSS gals are,” she said, “so having them involved in the race is fabulous.”

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SteveLee wrote on August 28, 2017 at 1:08 am

That's great! Giving to the charity is one of the most selfless things one can do. The old saying of giving is, "The more you give, the more you receive." This saying is really a true perspective, which became part of many people's principles. Donating to the orphan and raising funds for them is the most appropriate work one can do. Charities, foundation, organizations are there where people can take participate in mission humanitaire Afrique program for helping those are in need at abroad.