by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA – Jerry Hudgins is a man with a lot of soul.
Actually, it’s more appropriate to say he’s caring for a lot of soles — more than 2,000 at last count — collected for the ‘sole’ reason of giving them away!
Confused yet? Don’t be.
For the past six months, Hudgins has been volunteering at Catholic Charities in Topeka, mostly in the soup kitchen. But Hudgins wanted to do more to help people. The question was: What?
The capital city already has several social service agencies and food pantries, as well as a shelter for the homeless. He wanted to find that one thing, that one need not currently being met by the other agencies. Around the same time, Hudgins heard about a high school student in Wichita who was collecting new and gently used shoes to distribute to those in need.
“I thought, ‘If a high school student can do it, why can’t I?’” said Hudgins.
When Hudgins learned the pope was declaring a Year of Mercy, he couldn’t believe the timing.
As part of the Year of Mercy, the pope is exhorting all Catholics to practice both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Collecting shoes for those in need fulfills one of the corporal works of mercy: clothing the naked.
“Everything seemed to fall into place,” said Hudgins.
So he approached his pastor, Father Tim Haberkorn, of Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish.
“He thought [the idea] was a great one,” Hudgins said.
With Father Haberkorn’s approval, Hudgins set to work almost immediately, naming his new ministry Sole Reason. Since Jan. 1, Hudgins has collected more than 1,000 pairs of shoes or more than 2,000 soles, if you will, simply by placing boxes marked with the ministry’s name and logo in churches, Catholic schools and social service agencies throughout the city.
Hudgins is working now toward turning his ministry into a nonprofit. Already, he has contacted an online company who designed a logo for the ministry, business cards and a website. So far, he’s drummed up publicity by word-of-mouth, sending emails and talking with others throughout the city’s Catholic community.
Additionally, he has established partnerships with other social service agencies, including Catholic Charities and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Topeka, the latter of which will provide him with volunteers to sort and sanitize the shoes prior to the first distribution planned for this spring. All shoes collected at that point will be distributed free to anyone in need within the Topeka community. And the local angle is the one aspect Hudgins wants people to recognize more than anything else.
A lot of people, he said, don’t realize the large metal donation containers popping up in grocery store parking lots and similar locations don’t necessarily benefit the local community. Many of those containers are picked up and the contents are taken out of state, sometimes even out of the country.
And while Catholics are called to serve those in need no matter where they live, Hudgins really wanted to help his local community.
Another aspect he wants people to keep in mind is the ministry is just starting, and he’s the only one doing it right now.
Married and a father of three, Hudgins works nights. When most people are waking up, he’s going to bed. That leaves him precious few hours to devote to the ministry. So, he’s learning to make the most of his time by sending emails, allowing people to respond to him when convenient for them, and making phone calls in the few hours he has free in the late afternoons.
He’s also still working on some basic logistics — like a permanent storage space for the shoes as the ministry grows (right now they’re at his house) in between distribution events and a regular schedule for collection and distribution.
Still, Hudgins said he’s thrilled to simply have this important service underway.
“We’re put on this earth not to be served, but to serve,” Hudgins said.