Here’s a question: What
would you do if you had to walk miles to get a drink of water? Here’s another
one: What if you had to do that to bathe? Or cook? Or wash your clothes? What
if that water wasn’t even safe to use? What if you had to make that walk
multiple times a day so you couldn’t go to work or school? What about making those walks without shoes?
For Kenyan women and
children, the days are long. Most wake
around 3 am and make the miles long journey to find water. The water is always polluted. They take it back any way they can. Then they turn around and do it again. These are known as “water walks”. 1.1 million people make these walks every day. In fact, each day, 200 million hours are spent collecting water for basic necessities. The numbers get even worse. 1.1 billion people globally don’t have access to safe water. Two million people die every year due to diarrheal diseases that are easily preventable. Most of these deaths are
children under five years of age. In fact, it kills more children than malaria, AIDS and measles combined. A staggering 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes. Think about the questions you just asked yourself. Then ask yourself a better question: What if there was a way I could help?
1.1 million people "water walk" miles a day to polluted water systems. Around 1.5 million deaths each year are caused by diarrhea. It kills more children than malaria, AIDS and measles combined (source: water.org)
George P Hutchings asked himself this after meeting John Kihumba, a student from Kenya. George had founded a charity that helped international students like John stay in the
country and finish their education. Every time George gave John money, he would
send shoes back to his home in Kenya. George traveled there for the first time in 1998 and was overwhelmed by the poverty, and lack of water and health care. In the coming years, George and
John worked closely together donating shoes, health care supplies, meals and
money. Despite all of the resources being sent, George knew there was no end to the supplies needed. In 2007, John Kihumba was running for office in Kenya when he was killed. George knew he had to carry on this mission alone. He had seen people desperate for water. He
saw people who didn’t have shoes to protect themselves from basic parasites and
injury. He had learned how to drill simple water wells. After a decade of travel and humanitarian missions to Kenya, George realized that without clean water, all other aid wouldn’t matter.
George "The Shoeman" Hutchings on a mission trip to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake destroyed many water supplies.
George, ever the businessman, developed a truly unique solution. He had an idea to solve
multiple problems. He would collect gently used shoes. These shoes could be sold to street vendors, who would resell them for pennies on the dollar to those in need. He could use the funds generated to buy and build clean water sources in villages. This in turn could
promote health, hygiene, and safety, plus allow farmers to cultivate and
irrigate fields. Villages would then have much-needed food and income. George founded Shoeman Water Projects. Now he just needed the shoes.
Around this same time, New Balance St. Louis was collecting worn shoes to help keep them out of landfills, but didn’t really have a place to donate them. It seemed very few places wanted to or could handle recycling them. By chance, Kurt Brown, District Manager of
Brown’s Enterprises, was driving home and happened to hear George on the radio
asking for used shoes. He heard about George’s travels and how he wanted to
turn shoes into fresh drinking water. Some would call it luck, but Kurt knew it
was meant to be. Kurt quickly contacted George and a new partnership was born.
Kurt and George truly hit it off. The two quickly realized the power of this pairing. In 2009, Brown’s Enterprises became an official Shoeman Water Projects partner and Kurt made the
decision that all collected shoes would be donated directly to Shoeman. Now all seven locations collect and donate gently worn shoes. The Brown family was also instrumental in helping get Washington, MO, where BrownsCatalog.com is headquartered, established as the first-ever city cooperative. The City provides a dedicated shoe bin at the central recycling center. New Balance St. Louis even donated a van to the Shoeman, filled with shoes, to help increase donations and toincrease awareness of the project.
Brown's Enterprises donated a cargo van to The Shoeman Water Project to help increase shoe donations and make it easier to collect donated shoes. Brown's has been a proud partner since 2009.
“George, isn’t just an amazing man with total selflessness and complete care for people in need. He isn’t just a colleague; he is my ‘sole brother,” says Kurt. The two have also found a shared love for New Balance shoes. George loves the New
Balance insoles and often wears them inside his signature cowboy boots. They found
that by working together, they can accomplish so much more. Brown’s Enterprises
is now one of the largest collectors for Shoeman Water Projects.
In 2012, Brown’s collected over 60,000 pairs of shoes to Shoeman. New Balance St. Louis often participates in shoe drives around the area as well. This year, from Jan 28th – Feb 3rd, all seven locations will be hosting a Super Sole Event. For customers donating a pair of gently worn shoes, they will receive $10 off a regular-priced pair. For BrownsCatalog.com customers, every new shoe purchased from the website, BrownsCatalog.com will donate a pair of shoes in their honor in addition to receiving $10 off a new pair.
George figured out the answers to the questions. He’s figured out that 100,000 pounds of shoes can make water run. He figured out how to help. From 2008 – 2011, Shoeman Water Projects has collected over 1.5 million pairs of shoes. That has resulted in 4 water-well drilling rigs, more than 250 wells drilled serving more than 200,000 people, as well as water purification systems serving clinics, schools and villages across the globe.
Brown’s is honored to be a part of this ongoing effort. We applaud our staff for their efforts, as well as our customers who each year donate thousands of shoes. It is our privilege to provide dedicated recycle bins in our stores and to be a major donor. We encourage you
to help turn shoes into water. There is a way to help.
A Kenyan village enjoys their new well provided by The Shoeman Water projects.
FIND OUT MORE
Turning use shoes into water in 6 simple steps
George Demonstrates one of the well-drilling rigs
Who is the Shoeman?