First Posted: 6/18/2009
HILLSVILLE, Va. More than a year after her passing, Mary Sumner is still remembered for many reasons.
Her spunk and energy, even into her 80s, inspired those who knew her especially at Sumners home church of Blue Ridge Chapel.
Finding a way to honor Sumner, who served as director of the New River Baptist Womens Ministry and WMU for several years, was as easy as taking off a shoe.
Anyone who knew Mary Sumner remembers her vivaciousness and contagious happiness, her love for little dressy high heels, and her love and support for missions. After her death, the women of the New River Baptist Association tried to think of a way to honor her, said Evelyn Beamer, a member of both the NRBA and Blue Ridge Chapel. After learning about Soles4Souls and its mission of providing shoes new or gently used to people all over the world in need of shoes, it seemed like the perfect fit.
The effort culminated June 17 with the delivery of 977 pairs of shoes to Virginia Produce, where the shoes were readied to be shipped to Soles4Souls world headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.
Beamer said the effort began during the annual meeting of the New River Baptist Association WMU and Womens Ministry, when the group agreed to sponsor a shoe drive for Soles4Souls during the month of May in honor of Sumner. In total, nine different churches (Blue Ridge Chapel Sumners home church, Brush Creek Baptist, Calvary Baptist, First Baptist Church of Galax, First Baptist Church of Hillsville, Freedom Baptist, Hillcrest Baptist , Sky View Baptist and Faith Baptist of Toast, N.C.) contributed shoes to the cause. The Magic Mirror Beauty Salon in Hillsville also served as a donation site.
We appreciate everybodys thoughtfulness in getting shoes to us and in getting us new shoes, said Mary Ann Combs, a member at Blue Ridge Chapel. Some were new shoes and that was so impressive. It just shows what a good kind of people Carroll County has got.
Beamer and other organizers were overwhelmed by the amount of shoes the churches were able to collect in a little over a months time. She said it was just as amazing to see what transpired during a Sunday morning church service on May 31 at Blue Ridge Chapel. That day, Pastor David Moore caught the congregation offguard when he invited people to leave the shoes they were wearing at the altar and to think about people who didnt have shoes as they left church barefoot. Moore was the first to leave his shoes at the altar. By the end of the service, 37 other people had left their shoes.
It was amazing how many people left their Sunday shoes at the altar. And it was a sacrifice because it was their good shoes, Beamer said. Most of them have been really good shoes.
Beamer can remember staying at the Sumner household at an early age with one of Marys daughters, Judy, and trying on and playing with Marys numerous pairs of high heel shoes. Church members know Sumner would be excited by the mission, especially if she could have seen the room at Blue Ridge Chapel that housed the shoes, a room so full you could barely open the door.
Mary would be so proud, said Combs. One thing she loved so good was her high heel shoes. Every time we paired up a pair of high heels, I thought of her. I think she would be so pleased we did that in her honor.
As a national organization, Soles4Souls gives away a pair of shoes every 19 seconds. The non-profit organization has distributed shoes to over 70 countries on five continents. Soles4Souls was founded by Wayne Elsey in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that rocked Southeast Asia. Elsey was at home watching coverage of the tsunami on television when he saw a picture of a single shoe washing up on the beach. Having served as President and CEO of several footwear companies in the U.S., Elsey began calling other executives in the footwear industry, triggering a donation of 250,000 shoes to victims in countries devastated by the tsunami. When Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. a year later, Elsey called his shoe friends again, resulting in over a million pair of shoes being donated to the U.S. Gulf Coast region. A year later, Soles4Souls was officially created.
Soles4Souls has a simple motto: Changing the world one pair at a time. According to the organization, over 1.5 billion pairs of shoes lay idle in American closets. That is a staggering number, particularly when you consider that over 300 million children around the world are without shoes.
Beamer said the shoes will go anywhere they are needed, even in the U.S., once they are shipped to the Nashville headquarters.
We got a lot of high heels and a lot of nice dress shoes. Those go to Dress for Success for people who are trying to get jobs and will be going out for interviews. Those would probably stay in the U.S., Beamer said. They also have fundraisers where they buy shoes for kids starting school and that sort of thing. But they have distributed shoes to over 70 countries on five continents. If they hear of a need like a tsunami or the earthquakes or floods or anything like that, they will send shoes.
Aside from its many shipments overseas, Soles4Souls also sends shoes across the nation for disaster relief such as wildfires in Southern California, floods in the Midwest and tornados in the Southeast. The Appalachian Mountains is one of the American areas Soles4Souls hits most because it is one area where we consistently see children that do not have one adequate pair of shoes, according to the organizations Web site, www.soles4souls.org
Summer camps for disadvantaged, abused and neglected children are another big recipient of shoes from the organization in the U.S., as are homeless shelters, inner city hospitals for discharged trauma patients, and Navajo/Hopi Indian Reservations in Arizona.