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Salem youth collecting shoes to help others around the world

Imagining a football practice without shoes elicits a sincere “ouch” from 12-year-old Sycamore resident Zak Kozumplik. Imagining an operation to have his foot removed from not having a pair of shoes at all leaves him speechless.

Kozumplik and others at Salem Lutheran Church in Sycamore are hoping through a shoe drive, they can help people around the world who live without shoes.

Students in Salem Lutheran Church’s Confirmation Ministry group are holding a shoe drive through April 17. They are asking for donations of new or gently used shoes of any kind in any size. The shoes will be donated to the Alsip-based nonprofit Share Your Soles Foundation and sent to impoverished people throughout the world.

The confirmation group consists of around 35 kids, including Kimberly Hohlfeld, 12, of Sycamore.

“They need some help,” Hohlfeld said. “People are having problems and they need something safe to put on their feet.”

Share Your Soles started in 1999 after Chicago-area native Mona Purdy saw children in Guatemala painting hot tar on their feet to compete in a race in their village. She met an American orthopedic surgeon who was visiting the village. He told Purdy if the children wore shoes, he wouldn’t have to travel to the region so regularly to amputate their infected limbs.

When she returned home, Mona started collecting shoes that could be donated. Shoes started filling her garage and basement, prompting her to start Share Your Soles and open a warehouse in Alsip where shoes are sorted, sanitized and shipped.

To date, Share Your Soles has donated 2 million pairs of shoes. Salem’s confirmation group ran with the idea for their annual service project, asking each member of the congregation to give up a pair of shoes for Lent.

The confirmation group started accepting donations on Ash Wednesday, March 5, and since has collected 234 pairs. Their goal is to collect 2,300 pairs, one more than the church’s high school youth group collected in their Share Your Soles drive in 2010.

The confirmation group meets for an hour and 30 minutes every Wednesday. These sessions will used to box shoes through Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his apostles.

For several years, Salem Lutheran Church has offered a washing-of-the-feet ritual during its Maundy Thursday services to represent Jesus washing the feet of the apostles before the Passover meal.

This year, the ritual will include the collected shoes, which will be placed at the altar and blessed during the service. Confirmation students will carry the shoes out at the end of the service as the altar is traditionally stripped to prepare for the somber Good Friday service.

Once all the shoes have been collected, students will deliver the shoes to the warehouse in Alsip and volunteer the rest of the day, sorting, processing and boxing shoes.

Krysten Jones, 20, of Sycamore, was in the high school group in 2010 and now is a guide for the confirmation group. She hopes confirmation students will experience the same sense of accomplishment she felt once they complete their drive.

“Seeing where the shoes go and to know we’re helping others in other countries that we don’t even know feels so good,” Jones said.

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