Many who attended the Midway (Utah) 2nd Ward's activity on this particular week night came in their finest shoes. But when the bishop suggested that there were people in Armenia who needed their shoes, a sizeable portion of the ward returned home barefoot.
They were so moved by the plight of shoeless children in Armenia that they gave the shoes off their feet to assist a family welfare project.
The family project started simply, but enthusiasm soon mushroomed to include donations from hundreds of people throughout several western states. The project began when two sisters, Kathleen Lindsay and Elizabeth Ritchie, organized a service project for the 2001 Albert and Elsie Kohler family reunion.
Drawing on their experience of living in Armenia following the catastrophic earthquakes in 1988 that left 400,000 homeless, Kathleen and her husband, Ben, remembered the poverty of the people and felt that more children would attend school if they had shoes.
They chose Armenian children as their service project. Requests were mailed to family members prior to the reunion to gather as many new, or near new, shoes as possible. Kathleen and Ben placed a shoe bin in front of their home in Bountiful, Utah, where neighbors and ward members could easily deposit shoes.
"One evening I emptied the bin and 10 minutes later the door bell rang. A neighbor had come to bring more shoes but didn't know where to put them since the bin was overflowing again," said Brother Lindsay, describing the generosity of his neighbors.
Even family members were amazed at the contributions when they gathered for the reunion in Midway, during the summer and saw the mountain of shoes stacked in a warehouse. During the reunion each pair was laid on a tabletop where family members either polished, strung new laces or peeled off price tags of new shoes to make ready for shipment.
By day's end 81 large boxes that included nearly 3,500 pairs of shoes, 863 pairs of stockings, 96 pairs of extra shoelaces and 358 quilts and blankets were packed and ready for shipment.
More than half the shoes were new, including shoes donated by three grandchildren who used money they had earned to buy shoes that they dearly wanted for themselves, but opted to send to Armenia.
"There seemed no end to the generosity," said Kathleen. "Our Kohler family voted this project as one of the choicest experiences we've had." Shaun Stahle