I was asked to write something up about my experience during my Epsilon Project. In order to really understand the work being done here I think I need to explain a little bit of the background first.
In 2006, a group of youth from Ascension Lutheran Church in Fond du Lac, WI boarded a plane and began this wonderful journey that lead to the formation of YouCan Missions. In the early years of the relationship a small group of people would make an annual trip with a large group going every three years. It was in these first couple years, as we were building an elementary school and putting a second story on a church, that it came to the group’s attention that all the children around had terrible looking shoes. With how much walking most of these kids had to do, this was a problem. It was then that the Shoes for Belize Drive began to take place. This shoe drive eventually lead to the creation of YouCan Missions, a non-profit founded in 2016 with the goal of sharing God’s love and delivering hope to the people of Belize.
Fast-forward to today and YouCan Missions is strong and growing thanks to hard work put in by many of my close friends and family. I was unable to help a lot with the initial launch because I was getting ready for my first semester of college at the time. However my co-op has given me a unique opportunity to get back involved this year. I was approached by one of the YouCan founders in early February about trying to run a small expansion project in Sheboygan. The goal was to try and get Vollrath Co. (the company I am working for during my co-op) on board to collect shoes. Having already done the same thing in my school district senior year (which now competes with other local schools to see who can collect more), I accepted and began asking around to figure out who in the company I would have to talk with in order to get this up and running. With what seemed like little effort I talked to the HR department and got the go ahead. The next day I had boxes set up all around the office.
[Shoes collected and packed in Fond du Lac, WI on April 6th, 2019. Whole team is not pictured.]
When making the daily rounds to check all the boxes I would be stopped and questioned about whether I was “the kid collecting shoes.” I usually had to bite back a bit of a sarcastic response as I reached into the box and started bagging shoes and would say, “Yes, yes I am.” What I thought was a little strange was this usually made them smile. My best guess is it had something to do with witnessing a good deed in progress. Most of the time when we outgrow a pair of shoes or they get too marked up (*cough* Brother Quarberg *cough cough*) we throw them to the back of the closet or worse the garbage. Sometimes these are still perfectly good shoes that just need a new home. When people see their shoes getting picked up to be used for something bigger than them they can’t help but smile.
After about a month of collecting and my boss teasing about knowing when I was about to leave because I would be walking around with shoes, I finally emptied my trunk, sorted, and counted. All in all Vollrath collected one hundred and sixteen pairs of shoes. A week later I found myself in very familiar place, sitting on the floor of Ascension in Fondy as our team of volunteers counted out shoes of specific sizes and brought them to me so I could pack them in boxes. This was something I have been doing since I was about sixteen and the shoe drive really started to take off. What made this year different was the lunch, it was the typical pizza lunch but I was approached with a new challenge. The first ever Iowa shoe packing event was going to be held that next weekend in Indepence. Since they knew I go to Platteville they asked if I could make the drive down and help out because they were going to be seriously short on volunteers, especially those with experience. I said I would be there (forgetting I had previous arrangements in Green Bay and upsetting a few people but that all worked out). I also called on my brothers for help. It took a bit more effort than expected with some events going on that brothers had to work but I finally had a team consisting of Jack Fuellemann, Dominick Perry, his girlfriend Sam, my girlfriend Elizabeth, and myself. We all piled in my car that Saturday morning and began our journey. After six hours or so of work, all of the shoes had been packed in boxes and loaded on the trailer for their journey. During the week after this event I received a couple of messages about how much of an impact our group had. This inspired me to think about next year. I may not be able to collect in Sheboygan anymore but Platteville has a couple of schools I may be able to collect shoes in. Stay tuned for more on that mission.
[Pictured above is the team (and shoes ended up hidden behind us) from Independence, IA on April 13th, 2019. If you look in the center you may see some familiar faces (and a very annoyed looking Jack).]
Overall this years drive collected 4,179 pairs of shoes along with socks, school supplies, and new travel sized toiletries. For more information on YouCan Missions or to learn how you can get involved email me at email@example.com or visit youcanmissions.org.