Houlton woman starts shoe tree project to benefit African children

5 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — Eileen McLaughlin is a firm believer that a few small good deeds can make a difference in the world.

Inspired by a tree in Hodgdon that has multiple pairs of shoes hanging from it, McLaughlin has long wondered how she could do something similar, but yet make it for a charitable cause. To that end, McLaughlin has created three miniature “trees” to collect shoes for children in need.

“For years I have driven by, and as fun as it all seemed, I couldn’t help but think about how the shoes hanging up thru seasons could be recycled to provide for those who needed them,” McLaughlin said.
It was during a mission trip to Zimbabwe Africa in 2010 that McLaughlin first realized how children in underprivileged countries were in desperate need of shoes.

“Often small children would be on the streets and did not have any of the basics that we often take for granted,” she said. “There were thousands that were homeless and struggled each day for shelter, water, food, safety and clothing. I saw children without footwear. They had to walk miles to get water and hopefully a dollop of sudsa (like rice) to sustain them. They walked on dusty rocky ground without anything to protect their feet.”

McLaughlin said she met a little boy named Brendon, who did not have any shoes. After speaking with the boy, she ended up slipping off her own sneakers and giving them to him.

“I knew at that point that the needs were huge there and something had to be done,” she said. “It is nothing like we see here in America. All you need to do is open your eyes and poverty, starvation, medical disparities and abuse were notably present.”

McLaughlin said to get a better idea for what these children go through on a daily basis, she challenges folks to walk a mile without shoes to see just how difficult and painful it is.

“I know that this town often unites and comes together when there are needs, so I began the ‘Shoe Trees’ to collect new shoes for little feet,” she  said. “That way children can go to school, can walk for water and can play just like we do here.”

McLaughlin is still looking for additional partners to support her mission. Trees are located at the Carleton Project on Main Street, McDonalds on North Street and the Houlton Salvation Army on Court Street to collect shoes. Once enough have been collected, they will be sent to Zimbabwe for weCare Africa.

All sizes of comfortable walking children’s shoes are needed. Black shoes are also important for the children to wear while attending school and soccer cleats are an added bonus. Shoes should be new or gently used.

“If any agency is willing to sponsor a shipping container to be sent over, a large collection of shoes, school supplies and necessary items can be sent,” she said. “I am happy to know that people are so willing to donate shoes and am grateful for any contribution they make for sending them over.”
“If we are successful in gathering the needed shoes, supplies and shipping funds, there is no reason that we cannot continue to be a community that helps a community in need,” McLaughlin said.

For more information on this project, contact McLaughlin at 694-0430.