Salt Fork students' project has heart and sole

Salt Fork students' project has heart and sole

SIDELL — Unlike some of his female classmates, Salt Fork Junior High seventh-grader Carter Ridge never gave much thought to shoes — his or anyone else's.

That changed late last month when two teachers launched a project to help provide closed-toe shoes to children in Uganda and, by doing so, help them lead healthier lives.

"This will be a shoe when it's finished," Carter said, holding up a plastic baggie containing several pieces of denim that he and his classmates cut out from a pair of jeans during a "cutting party" on Tuesday.

"These shoes will be given to children who can't afford them," added classmate Kylee Pate, who called the Mary Jane-style shoes "cute but practical.

"The most important thing is they'll protect their feet and keep them from getting horrible jiggers," parasites that burrow into feet and lay eggs. The eggs can multiply and destroy the soft tissues, and the resulting wounds are prone to infection and disease. "Kids shouldn't have to worry about" that.

For the project, the school teamed up with Sole Hope, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that works with Ugandan men and women to make the shoes, which provides them with an income, and put them on the feet of needy children.

"I thought: What a great way to teach kids empathy and highlight for them that there's always someone they can help," said Sheila Garrett, the school's social worker who researched the organization and proposed the project for February, which school officials designated as "Kindness Matters Month."

"We have a fair amount of poverty in our school," Garrett continued, "but it's nothing compared to these kids who are getting parasites in their feet and getting huge sores."

"Sometimes our kids complain if they can't get a pair of $100 shoes," social studies teacher Rosemary Puzey added. "This kind of puts everything into perspective for them and shows them things that are happening outside of their own little bubble. It also shows them that they can help."

The project began in late January when Salt Fork sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders started collecting plastic milk jugs and old pairs of jeans.

"We got so many pairs of jeans we stopped counting," said Puzey, who is overseeing the project with colleague Sara Wochner.

On Monday, students watched a short video explaining how to make shoe patterns from the plastic jugs and shoe pieces using the fabric. Later, they started tracing and cutting.

"You want to get the pieces as close together as possible so you don't waste any of the material," said seventh-grader Emily Watson, who was tracing a "vamp" or toe pattern on a pair of jeans that had been ripped open at the seam and laid out flat on several desks.

Classmate Ashton Stoudt said one pair takes four heel pieces, four vamp pieces, two denim heel patches and two plastic heel patterns. After they're cut out, they must be safety-pinned together and put in a bag.

The work will continue throughout the week, Puzey said. She said once they're done, the bags will be shipped to Sole Hope's North Carolina location and eventually on to Uganda.

Puzey said the school is also hoping to raise $10 for each shoe pattern kids make. The money will be used to buy the other materials — rubber for the sole, insoles, an elastic band and glue — needed to put the shoe together.

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