GENESEO, Ill. — Children at the Concordia Lutheran Church in Geneseo are helping provide shoes to people half a world away.
Last year the church launched a project to support "The Shoe that Grows" which provides children with unique shoes that can last a child up to five years. Church secretary Stephanie Prochaska was tasked with finding out more about the program by church pastor, the Rev. Stephen Mueller.
Prochaska said the program began with one purpose: practical compassion.
"In other words, actually helping those in need to the best of their ability with love and grace," she said. "It’s not affiliated with any religion but, as Christians, this is what we all strive for and want to teach our children. So it seemed like the prefect fit for our Sunday school mission."
The church contacted the Rev. Nicholas Salifu in Ghana to determine if kids in his community would benefit from the shoes which come in two sizes and four colors. Salifu is a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod pastor who works with Concordia's missions committee.
“He was 100 percent in favor of ‘The Shoe that Grows’ project,” Prochaska said.
She said Salifu told them there was a great need for children's shoes because the kids' feet grow fast. While they may not walk naked, many children walk bare-footed, he said, leading to all sorts of injuries, diseases and snake bites.
"'There is nobody in Ghana who will oppose sending shoes to children,'" Salifu told the church.
The shoes, created by “Because International," are made in a simple design with high quality antibacterial synthetic materials that consist of compressed rubber similar to what's used for car tires and high grade tactical Velcro.
The shoes have no mechanical parts or gears and are easy to clean.
"Because of these materials and the unique growing ability of the shoes, they can last a child up to five years,” Prochaska said.
The Geneseo church, at 316 S. Oakwood Ave., has provided funds in the past for several sanitary wells in a part of Ghana where the Concordia Preparatory School is located. Prochaska said the congregation opened their hearts for the shoe project.
"Our Sunday school children understood that, for every $15 contributed, a pair of shoes would be given to a child in need," she said.
The project began the first Sunday in November 2017. A chart tracked the Sunday school’s collection with the goal of raising $750.
"Less than a month in, I had to add more room to the top (of the chart)," Prochaska said. "And by the time all was said and done, the Sunday school children raised $2,400 — enough for 160 pairs of shoes.
"Shipping to Africa is very costly and a few members of our congregation donated several hundred dollars to cover shipping so the Sunday school money could focus on the shoes," she said. "It was a tremendous blessing."
Prochaska said the main recipients of the shoes are the children from the Concordia Preparatory School in Ghana. The school was started by Salifu and people in his community.
"We had the option of having the shoes shipped to Ghana," she said. "But we had them shipped to our church because we wanted the kids to have some hands-on help with the shoes and they all got to pack a pair, and it was fun."
This year, "The Shoe that Grows" mission at the Geneseo church is hoping to raise more than $2,000 by Christmas.
Prochaska said that when the project is explained to Sunday school children at Concordia, the staff tries to get them to understand how different life is in Ghana compared to the United States.
"They don’t have constant access to Facebook or the internet,” she said. "Their world is different in that one-on-one interaction is the most common way to share news, including the best news of all which is God’s word.
"We want them to understand that, with the gift of these shoes, they’re not just giving a valuable physical item but also the love and grace that comes from God’s word."
To donate to the project, call 309-944-3993.