Houston church collects record number of shoes

Henry Hill has served as the shoe drive coordinator for South Main Baptist Church in Houston since the church first began the project in 2001. (Photo by Eric Guel)

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HOUSTON—Many churches greet the rush of the back-to-school season with special worship services and promotion Sundays. One Houston church stays grounded with an annual project that has helped more than 100,000 children worldwide.

South Main Baptist Church in Houston completed its southmain ages400Volunteers of all ages helped pack shoes at South Main Baptist Church in Houston on Sept. 1. Church members have collected 100,000 pairs of Shoes for Orphan Souls over the lifetime of the project. (Photo by Eric Guel)13th annual shoe drive Sept. 1 in support of Shoes for Orphan Souls, the largest humanitarian aid project of Buckner International. The church collected 10,012 pairs of shoes this year that soon will be on the feet of children in the Dominican Republic, Peru and the United States.

This year’s collection pushed the total given through South Main to 100,310 pairs of shoes collected since 2001, making it the largest cumulative collection of shoes by any church in the history of the Shoes for Orphan Souls project. 



“These shoes will find their way to vulnerable children and families and serve as a tangible expression of God’s love, shining hope into their lives. South Main has really taken the ball and scored a touchdown for Shoes for Orphan Souls,” said Albert Reyes, president and CEO of Buckner International.

southmain cage400Shoes are displayed behind cages in the lobby of South Main Baptist Church in Houston where they serve as a constant reminder of the children whose lives will be affected by the collection. (Photo by Eric Guel)On Sept. 1, more than 200 volunteers of varied ages worked together in the South Main lobby to prepare the shoes for shipping. Children as young as 4 and 5 years old tossed shoes from the top of the “shoe mountain” as adults sorted and packed them up for shipment to the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas.

“It’s controlled chaos,” said Henry Hill, church member and long-time shoe drive coordinator. “But I always say there’s a job for everyone.”



southmain kids300Children climbed mountains of shoes in the lobby at South Main Baptist Church in Houston to toss shoes down below to the adults packing up the boxes. (Photo by Eric Guel)Hill has coordinated the church’s shoe drive since it began in 2001 and has traveled on 15 mission trips with Buckner to serve vulnerable children and deliver shoes. He serves as trustee emeritus on the Buckner board and has a unique perspective on the needs of children he has seen through his travels around the world.

“I catch myself looking at what kids have on their feet, and most of the places we go, the kids don’t have shoes like they should,” he said. “I am continuously reminded that there is a purpose to what we’re doing. So, if the church wants to keep supporting it, I want to keep doing it.”

Every August, the church begins collecting shoes and money. South Main welcomes visitors and members with mountains of shoes piled at least six feet high in the lobby, held in place by more than 50 feet of caged fences wrapped in white Shoes for Orphan Souls banners.


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southmain truck400Volunteers at South Main Baptist Church in Houston load boxes onto the truck for shipment to the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas. (Photo by Eric Guel)Volunteers arrive each Wednesday morning during the drive to remove shoes from boxes, cut off tags and tie the laces together. Then on the last Sunday of the shoe drive, everyone comes together for a packing party after church to help process and pack the shoes for shipment.

Pastor Steve Wells said the mountains serve as both a practical storage space and visual reminder about the children whose lives they are changing through their gifts.

“There is so much energy that comes from seeing this big display continue to grow week after week,” Wells said. “We are constantly reminding everyone that each pair of shoes is going to be delivered to a child with grace and love; and that this is not a one and done project. Buckner is in it for the long haul. The shoes are a front door, not a back door. Buckner maximizes the impact of the shoes for deeper ministry everywhere they go.”



souhtmain molly400Molly Cash, Shoes for Orphan Souls project coordinator, unloads boxes at the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid. (Photo by Lauren Sturdy/Buckner International)In addition to the shoe drive, South Main collaborates with Buckner to support a community project in Peru and to build churches and homes for vulnerable families in the poorest counties of the Rio Grande Valley.

Molly Cash, Shoes for Orphan Souls coordinator, said South Main’s dedication is “unheard of” and the church has collected more shoes than any other church in the United States. 

“They have such a fiery passion to help kids,” she said. “To see it continue to thrive and flourish year after year is so inspiring. Without South Main, a lot of kids wouldn’t have the joy of receiving a new pair of shoes, or the prayers and love that come with them.”



Cash, who grew up attending the church and first learned about Buckner and Shoes for Orphan Souls through Hill, credits the church’s leadership and coordinator Henry Hill with helping the project continue to be so successful.

southmain tunnell400SaraBeth Tunnell, Shoes for Orphan Souls project coordinator, helps unload boxes of shoes at the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas. (Photo by Lauren Sturdy/Buckner International)“Henry is a sweet man with the biggest heart,” she said. “He loves Buckner and the kids we serve. His attention to detail and to making sure each child receives the very best is what makes him so wonderful to work with. And I think the church seeing his enthusiasm is huge.”

Hill points back to the church as the true sustaining force behind the effort.

“I feel very proud and very appreciative of what the members of South Main have contributed over such a long period of time,” he said. “To sustain it for that long is really something. South Main truly has a heart for ministry.”

Hill will travel to Peru with Buckner the ninth time this December to deliver Christmas gifts and shoes to children.

“Buckner always says the shoes help the kids know they are not forgotten, and that is really the truth. You see the kids smile and jump, dancing around in their shoes. It’s pretty special. Especially when you know they don’t ever get anything new. I feel very, very blessed.”


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