The Man Who Turns Shoes Into Water Settles in Fenton
George "The Shoeman" Hutchings, opens a new collection and distribution center in town to serve the needs of the charitable Shoeman Water Projects.
It was World Water Day on Tuesday (who knew?) and George "The Shoeman" Hutchings marked the occasion by opening a new collection and distribution warehouse in Fenton for his Shoeman Water Projects organization.
Hutchings routinely turns shoes into water.
The Fenton facility, at 1603 Manufacturers Dr., will allow Hutchings to more easily store the thousands of pairs of donated used shoes to be sorted and packed for shipment. From here, the shoes will be sold in underdeveloped countries with the proceeds used to drill water wells and establish small water purification operations.
"Each pair of shoes we collect serves two purposes," Hutchings said. "It puts shoes on people's feet and provides water for them to drink."
Hutchings said the added benefit is that thousands of pairs of shoes are kept out of landfills. Since Aug. 2008, the Shoeman Water Projects has collected 1.3 million shoes, leading to 250 wells drilled in Kenya alone, providing water for 190,000 people.
"This building is about the general fundamental principle of providing water to the world," Hutchings said of the new facility.
Hutchings, who lives in Ballwin, relies on volunteers to help collect the shoes, including "teachers, children, friends of the environment, students, youth, people wanting to make a difference, parents, scouts, pastors, group leaders, community service leaders and people who want to have fun."
It was in 1998 that a Kenyan friend of Hutchings convinced him of the need for shoes, and water, by his people back home. It wasn't long before the friend amassed 30,000 pairs of shoes, with the admonition to Hutchings that "I collected them, you have to ship them." Hutchings said he enlisted two friends to help pay for the shipments: "Mr. Mastercard and Mr. Visa."
It was a subsequent visit to Kenya that ultimately convinced Hutchings of the need to make water more easily available to the people of Kenya. While there, a bus pulled up and a pregnant woman was pushed off near a medical facility that had no water or a sterile place to deliver a baby. Hutchings assisted in the birth and, incredibly, the same thing happened 20 minutes later with another woman.
"It became one of the defining moments in my life," he said. "I knew I had to do something to help."
The Shoeman Water Projects has assisted people in 101 different countries.
"It's very gratifying work, " Hutchings said. "One man told me 'The government has been promising us water for 30 years. You did it in one year.'"
Shoeman Water Projects partners with Edge Outreach, which installs portable, inexpensive water purification systems that can generate up to 38,000 liters of drinkable water daily, enough for 10,000 people. The water purification system is based on a simple chloring generator that runs on a 12-volt car battery.
Tuesday's grand opening included a ceremonial ribbon-cutting by Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock. In addition, music was provided by the Boney Goat Bluegrass Band, refreshments were available and a bounce house installed for kids to jump in.
A children's neighborhood group called Y.E.A.H. provided face painting as well as general help with the shoe donations that came in during the afternoon ceremonies.
One highlight of the festivities was a push-up contest instigated by Hutchings in which he challenged the youth in attendance to a little competition. Mike Brady, 15, of Pacific, did 44 pushups. Jake Leah, 12, of Fenton, did 50 pushups. And Hutchings, 62, a former Marine, without losing a breath, did 51 pushups for the win.
To volunteer with the Shoeman Water Projects, to arrange a shoe drive at a school or business or to learn about the Shoeman's adventure in turning shoes into water, visit www.shoeman.org or call 636-751-8197.