Feet In Need

Feet In Need: Africa

From the Daily Herald, 6/18/09

"Group's Goal: To make 1,000 happy feet in Africa"

Shelley Simmering's St. Charles garage is overflowing with shoes. Boxes and bags filled with more than 500 pairs of New Balance, Nike, and Adidas running shoes in almost every conceivable size occupy a space meant to house three cars.

While most of the shoes are used and have been discarded by their former owners for newer pairs, Simmering, a running specialist from St. Charles, hopes that in a few days all of these shoes will get a new chance at a new life and a fresh start - on the feet of more than 500 African children living in the slums near Nairobi, Kenya. They will be going to the Kinyago-Dandora Secondary School.

On Thursday, Simmering, her 16 year old daughter and seven other members of First Baptist Church in Geneva will leave for a two-week trip to Nairobi, where they will outfit schoolchildren with the shoes they've collected. many of the shoes have been donated by Dick Pond Athletics of St. Charles. Reebok has donated amny new pairs as well.

Simmering, 49, is a lifelong runner and founder of Foot Mechanics in St. Charles. There she works as a licensed pedorthist, a specialist in the area of podiatry with a focus on building shoes, biomeechanics and orthotic construction. Simmering opened Foot Mechanics six years ago, motivated by her desire to help runners avoid injuries that she had suffered in her own running career that includes nine marathons and a slew of 5- and 10K's.

Spurred by the success of Foot Mechanics, Simmering then founded Feet In Need, an organization that provides local high school and middle school students lacking the financial means with free shoes and orthotics. Now Simmering is taking Feet In Need global for the first time.

Her goal is to give every African child who comes to them with a pair of shoes.

First Baptist first sent a group to Nairobi last year, and the group only sent about 100 pairs of shoes, Simmering said. "Then it was kind of pick and choose who would get them. i really, really want everybody to get a pair of shoes ... There are little girls who will take size 10 men's shoes just to have a pair of shoes, so it's a real need."

Tom McAndrews, trip leader for the Nairobi expedition, cannot help but be impressed by Simmering's dedication to achieving her goal.

"Shelley has been awesome. We have over 500 pairs of shoes that she personally has collected and she and her daughter seem very comfortable and willing to stretch themselves to make their goal," he said.

Simmering and the other volunteers will bag up the shoes and actually take them on the plane with them. Simmering says that if they shipped the shoes overseas to Africa they would probably get stolen in transit.

While this will be Simmering's first trip to Nairobi, she already plans to return.

"There's alot of disease processes that happen with the Africans' feet because they are not covered. They want shoes, they need shoes and they have nothing," she said. "I figure this is a really great way for us runners to give back. Running has given me so much in my life, and to give just one little aspect of that back to somebody, whether it be in Africa or here, that's what it's all about for me."

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