It started as a way to add color to the exterior of First United Methodist Church in Hutchinson, Kansas. But the results have become a simple, yet effective, outreach to the community.
Since the spring, church members have strung flip-flops and socks on the trees and bushes in front of its building in downtown Hutchinson, available to anyone who needs the footwear.
The project, church member Deanne Martin said, began as a way to brighten the landscape of the church.
“I was just brainstorming a way to add some color to the outside of the building,” said Martin, who works for a graphic design company. “It was just getting near Easter time and the thought went to Easter eggs and bushes.”
But once she got approval from the church council and saw there were, indeed, takers for the flip-flops and socks outside the building, “I just didn’t want to stop it at Easter,” Martin said.
“It just grew from there,” she said.
It began with church members donating the items, and grew to other members of the community. Vacation Bible School students from Trinity UMC in Hutchinson even came over to help stock the trees.
Martin and other church members talked to agencies in town that serve the disadvantaged and assured them that there would be those interested.
In its first few months, more than 350 items have been given away so far, Martin said. There is a low-income housing area near the church, as well as facilities where the poor can learn new trade skills, and she said she thinks that’s who is using some of the socks and flip-flops.
Martin stocks the tree on Sunday afternoons.
“Oftentimes by mid-Monday, everything’s gone,” she said.
Anecdotal evidence has shown that there are a number of people taking the items and not just one person for his or her own gain, she added.
She and other church members are open to suggestions for other items, she said. One member had a surplus of two-dozen flyswatters that he donated.
“We put them in the tree, and they disappeared,” Martin said.
First UMC is using the tree as a springboard for other projects. At its VBS in late July, children painted boxes for new mini-lending libraries that will go on church property.
The local Salvation Army has offered to donate socks, but the church has made the decision to stick with new socks and flip-flops, Martin said.
“These are new, which kind of makes them special,” she said. “We’ve had a good variety of all kinds of sizes and colors and shapes, so it really helps them do a little shopping if they want to.”
The Rev. Jeff Slater, First UMC pastor, says he hopes the project expands to make those in need aware of the food pantry at the church.
“What we've seen clearly, though, is how it's opened people's eyes to the need,” Slater said. “I don't suppose we'll ever know how many we've helped, though there is evidence that many have received flip-flops and socks.”
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