By Jessica Connor
PIEDMONT–Anderson-area United Methodist churches are living the true meaning of connectionalism these days thanks to a multi-church effort to collect shoes for Haiti.
In December, Fairfield United Methodist Church, Piedmont, launched a Shoes for Haiti campaign after their senior pastor, Carleathea Benson, heard about the project while attending the African-American Clergy Women’s Leadership Conference at Lake Junaluska, N.C.
“This was something fairly simple—we were coming up on Christmas, and most people have shoes to discard,” Benson said.
Benson put the ministry (a collaborative effort between Fairfield UMC and a UMC in Norfolk, Va.) in the hands of Louise Jackson, chairperson of missions at Fairfield. Soon, the small church had reached into the depths of their collective closets, donating 350 pairs of shoes.
Inspired, Benson brought the idea to sister churches throughout the Anderson District, as well as to her connections at Clemson University, thinking maybe they could get 500 or even 1,000 shoes to donate.
To her surprise, the project immediately resonated with people.
Shoes began pouring in, with partner churches including Clemson UMC; Grace UMC, Pickens; Shiloh UMC, Piedmont; Lawrence Chapel UMC, Central; First UMC, Easley; and Tabor UMC, Easley.
But the great numbers didn’t register with Benson until she and the team began packing up the shoes for pick-up. They were able to put 25 pairs in one bag, and they started counting bags before they realized they were in the thousands.
“Lord, this is awesome!” Benson said, laughing as she recalled their delight in the bounty.
By the end of the project, at the Advocate’s press time in mid-February, they had collected more than 1,500 pairs of shoes for Haiti.
“The United Methodist Church is a connectional church, where small dreams can become reality through partnering one with another,” Benson said. “Through our connectional efforts, Fairfield UMC was able to collect 1,500-plus shoes. To God be the glory!”
The Rev. Roger Gwinn, pastor of the Tabor-Arial Charge, said his parishioners were eager to help with the project. They gave a special offering after the earthquake, but donating shoes was a much more tangible way for them to outreach.
“We’ve got a loving, caring bunch of people, and no matter where the need is, they just want to reach out,” said Gwinn, pointing out how easy it was for his congregation to help. “How many people have got an extra pair of shoes in their closet?”
Barbara Ochoa, chair of the Sending Committee at Lawrence Chapel UMC, said her church donated about 84 pairs of shoes to the project.
“As soon as it was mentioned, the shoes started coming in,” said Ochoa, who said her church felt called to help in the name of the Lord. “We’re actually commanded to help those who can’t help themselves, and those poor people in Haiti sure need all the help they can get. That’s what He wants.”