On a cool February afternoon, I pulled our big red shoe van into the driveway of 3366 Lake Bend Drive. It was a happy little white home with a small front porch and a mail box waving to greet me, squeezed in a line of identical happy little homes. As I hopped out of the van and slammed the door shut, high muffled barks squeaked out from inside the house. The front door was accompanied by a sign I knew well: Used Shoe Drop-Off. I knocked and was met with a soft “Come in!”
I was told this pick up would be a little out of the ordinary – instead of the usual organizations, this shoe drop-off location was a private residence. Jack Mueller, I was told, was a kind 92 year old man who collected some shoes and stored them in his bathtub. I learned quickly that this description was only partially true. Jack was indeed a kind 92 year old man, but as he and his trusty old dachshund, Pedro, led me to his shoe storage, I met quite the surprise.
Jack had not merely collected some shoes and stored them in his bathtub – Jack’s entire bathroom was filled to the door with bags of shoes! My concern was eased later when I learned that there was another restroom in the house, because this one was certainly unusable. After many trips with what totaled 34 bags of used shoes, I got the chance to sit down with Jack (and Pedro) for a bit and hear his story.
“I heard about Shoeman [Water Projects] in the paper,” Jack told me. “And it had the phone number, so I called to inquire.” Jack’s wife had passed away in December of 2010, and he stumbled across this article just a few months later.
“It came as a real blessing to me. It gave me something [constructive] to do. I pushed it,” Jack said. “I talked to anybody and everybody.” He told me of the many places he had “pestered” into collecting shoes for him, including his retirement community, another senior center, his church, the auto repair place down the road, and the childcare center across the street.
“I keep track of how many I’ve collected.” Jack pulled out small notebook he kept beside his armchair, opened it up, and flipped it back to the beginning. He showed me where it all started - in April 2011, Jack donated the 19 pairs of shoes his wife left behind. And as if that hadn’t stretched a smile across my face already, he then flipped back to his most up-to-date tally:
8557 pairs of shoes.
“The thing that struck me about Shoeman,“ Jack continued, “was that it wasn’t just a matter of shipping shoes over, but was getting at a more basic problem… the lack of pure water. It’s usually women who have to get it, and they have to walk miles. And there’s no telling what can happen to them on the journey.”
I asked Jack if he had advice for anyone else who could potentially make as big of an impact as he has made:
Thank you, Jack Mueller, for your years of commitment to the mission of Solea Water, the multitude of bags of shoes thrown into your bathroom, and the 8557 tally marks in your notebook.
- Anthony Burchett