Last summer, Joelle Miller traveled to Kenya on a mission trip. While there, the Anoka High School senior worked with dozens of orphaned children living in the slums of Nairobi.
“We played with the kids, gave them diapers, heard their stories. It was pretty sad – they had nothing,” Miller said, describing the depth of need discovered when she visited the Baby Blessings orphanage in Nairobi.
“We had already known about some of their needs, but never knew they needed shoes,” she said.
Her heart aching with a desperate longing to help the children, Miller saw an opportunity to do just that when assigned to do a senior project for her honors politics and law class at Anoka High School.
And so, together with classmates Kelly Eisenschenk, Mary Halonen, Maddie Kinn and Frankie Halter, Miller organized a shoe drive.
“We’re collecting new and gently-used shoes – grade school sizes for boys and girls age zero to 18,” said Eisenschenk.
The girls set up collection spots in the high school and at Peterson Shoes in downtown Anoka. They made announcements to classmates on the school’s TV 7 school news broadcast. They hung a shoe drive poster in the cafeteria. They promoted the shoe collection at church, with family and friends and at their parents’ work place.
“We really did everything we could to get word out that we were collecting shoes for the kids,” said Kinn.
At Anoka Middle School for the Arts Fred Moore campus, a teen night event also set the stage for shoe collection, she said.
“Jimmy (Nyembwe) said he’d help us out and he even said he would give us 10 pairs of shoes himself,” Miller said.
Nyembwe is the middle school student learning advocate and shares the students’ passion to help the children of Nairobi, she said.
The collection ends Saturday (Nov. 16) with a last-chance-to-give event staged at Goodrich Field in Anoka from noon to 2 p.m. that day.
“We’ll collect last-minute donations, we’ll have stationary and cards available for people to write a note to the children, we’ll be serving African food, hot chocolate, hot tea, maybe some chai, and invite people to give a donation to help with shipping costs,” Miller said.
In fact, the girls had asked the local FedEx office if that shipping company would donate their services, but were told it could not, according to Miller.
“So we’re asking if there is any person or company or corporation who would be willing to help sponsor our project by helping pay the cost for shipping,” Miller said.
Anyone interested in helping to defray those shipping costs should contact Miller at [email protected]
“We just really want to help those children, put shoes on their feet, give them a little something to make life a little better for them, that’s all,” Miller said.
Fellow shoe collector Halonen, who was adopted from the Republic of Georgia, knows a bit about what this could mean for the orphans.
“This will help the kids know that there are people who care about them,” she said. “For them to get something like this … that really means a lot.”
And Halonen’s shoe-collecting colleague Kinn agreed. “When people you don’t even know are helping you, it would really hit deep in your heart,” Kinn said.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]