When I first walked into the lobby of the Honey Creek Resort in southwest Iowa, I thought someone had robbed the shoe department of Dollar General as a prank or inherited a closet of shoes from Imelda Marcos. Several thousand pairs of shoes hung on racks, perched on the fireplace, hid in bags on the floor, and dangled from the mantle.
Furthermore, I wondered how many trips it took to haul those shoes in and if shoe-sales at a Rotary District 6000 Convention was profitable enough to warrant all that work. Apparently – I surmised- Rotarians like to buy shoes for their kids, grandkids, and next-door neighbors.
As it turns out, these Rotarians next-door neighbors live in Africa. You gotta watch those Rotarians- their always coming up with crazy ideas for doing good and making it look like fun the whole time. Apparently, wiping out polio was not good enough for them; they also want to provide impoverished people clean water, good food, and medicine.
With three thousand pairs of shoes clogging up the lobby, you know there’s a story in there somewhere. Sure enough, I rooted around long enough in the pile of shoes to find out whose idea started it all. Behind every great activity is someone who had a crazy idea and decided to act on it. At some moment in time, a little light bulb turns on over their head as the good idea turns on. I wanted to know whose light bulb turned on and when it happened.
I finally found the culprit thanks to his wife, Peggy, ratting him out. Terry Geiger, the District Governor for Rotary District 6000, was watching a television show one evening with Peggy. The reporter was interviewing Dr. Blessman (a delightful man who I met at the convention) who has a ministry in South Africa. Dr. Blessman said, “These kids may not have shoes on their feet, but they’ll have a hot meal tonight.” The bulb turned on for Terry.
Being a good Rotarian, he set out to involve as many others as he could in his sphere of influence. I’d say he was pretty successful: 3,241 shoes were donated at the convention and $6,800 cash came in to buy more shoes! When all is done, nearly 4,000 people will get new shoes!
I often look at things like piles of shoes and wonder what it takes to make things like that happen. I’ve known several folks who have tried shoe drives like this and failed miserably, so what was it about Terry that made this unique?
Here are some observations of his leadership:
- He had the support of those closest to him. His wife, Peggy, was as much, if not more, involved in making those shoes appear as Terry
- He leveraged his position of leadership to make something positive happen
- He articulated a vision that was easy to get on board with
- He set others up to be collaboratively successful – they shared their success as a community, not as any individual
- He fostered healthy competition between clubs as to who donated the most (and it was done in proportion to size to ensure equity)
- He created a vehicle others could hop on and ride
- He empowered others
The booth I set up for Outreach was just a few feet away so I had the pleasure of watching the pile grow as people hauled in bulging plastic bags and boxes full of shoes. Each bag or box was accompanied with smiles and laughter as people commented on the growing pile and the curious question of what the final tally would be.
I sat quietly and observed, but I wished I could have teleported each of the people to places I’ve been and introduce them to people who have no shoes.
Here are just a few places I would have taken them to:
- Dedaab, Kenya refugee camp to meet the children who have never owned a pait of shoes
- Balan, Haiti – where young children like this one, barely big enough to walk, are enlisted each day in the “water walk” a five mile round trip journey- barefoot- just to get water
- Colombia, South America- along the Atratro River where we delivered food to hundreds of starving women and children. These people were so poor we had to give them pots to cook the food in. Isabel, the lady in this photo, had never owned a pair of shoes in her life. Ever.
- Singida, Tanzania where seven families live in this house and all that they own is hanging on the clothesline. If these children knew a pair of shoes were coming the next day, they would lay awake all night like it was Christmas eve
- Somotillo, Nicaragua where children like this are made to work rather than attend school
Economists would call this process of donors giving shoes to needy people an economic transfer: those with money to buy shoes give those with no money to buy them.
I’d like to tack on an additional phrase to that: economic transfer of pleasure. All who purchased those shoes could have spent the money on something for their own consumption. Instead, they chose to use their money to give pleasure to someone else, yet, in turn, they receive they pleasure of giving. That’s an economic transfer of pleasure.
I saw the smiles of the people who were giving the shoes; I wish they could see the smiles of the people who will receive them.