Youth finds unusual way to make a big difference

By Lynn R. Parks

On a hot day in August, Emma Rider, 13, sat in the barn at her home near Bridgeville, surrounded by used shoes. She had collected the shoes for EDGE Outreach, a faith-based, nonprofit organization in Louisville, Ky., that installs water purification systems in developing countries, and it was her job to pull the shoes from whatever container they were in and put them in large plastic bags, 40 pairs to a bag. In the heat and humidity of mid-summer, it was a smelly job.

"She was handling what had been on other people's feet," said her mother, Lori Ockels. "And she turned to me and said, 'What have I signed up for?' "

Ockels reminded Emma of the reasons that she agreed to help EDGE in the first place: That every 20 seconds, a child dies somewhere in the world because of water-related diseases, including cholera. That the number of people dying from unsafe drinking water is the equivalent of a 747 filled with people and crashing, killing everyone, every 30 minutes.

If Delawareans died at the rate that people around the world die from unsafe drinking water, our population would be gone in a few months.

Emma rallied. And now, four months later, a horse stall in the barn is nearly filled with used shoes packed in plastic bags. A truck from EDGE is scheduled to visit the farm in mid-December to pick them up.

Emma started collecting shoes in mid-August, after learning about the EDGE program from her brother, Nathan, who is a volunteer there. Her goal was to collect 4,000 pairs of shoes by Thanksgiving; so far, she has collected 6,000 pairs of shoes. She enlisted the help of two churches she attends, Crossroad Community Church near Bridgeville and Union United Methodist Church, as well as her 4H group, Dublin Hill. She also made a presentation about EDGE to her school, the Sussex Academy of Arts and Sciences near Georgetown, which then embarked on its own shoe collection effort. So far, the school has collected 1,000 pairs of shoes.

EDGE Outreach sorts the donated shoes that it receives into wearable and not wearable.

The wearable shoes are sold to an exporter who in turn sells them to people in developing countries who are interesting in having a business. Those entrepreneurs sell the shoes to their countrymen.

Non-wearable shoes are sold to a recycling company that grinds them up to make recycled surfacing material, used in playgrounds. With every 2,000 pairs of shoes that it receives, EDGE can raise enough money to put in one water purification system. Each system can provide 10,000 gallons of clean water a day. The systems operate on salt and 12-volt car batteries. Volunteers from EDGE train people in the communities in which the systems are installed to operate them.

"When I look at the shoes that I pack, I think of the people who will have shoes on their feet because of this," Emma said. "And I think of the people who will have clean water. Here, we take both water and shoes for granted. We can use all the water we want, without even thinking about contamination."

Emma plans to continue collecting shoes, even after the EDGE truck has emptied the horse stall in her barn. She said that her effort makes her feel as though she is contributing to making the world a better place.

"This has made me realize that one person can make a lot of difference," she said. "Before, I thought you needed a whole group of people to make a change. But now I understand that I can make a change. I can help communities be better."

For your information Emma Rider is collecting shoes for EDGE Outreach, which installs water purification systems in developing countries. Shoes can be dropped off at Union United Methodist Church in Bridgeville and Crossroad Community Church east of Bridgeville. Each pair of shoes should be tied or rubber-banded together. For details, call Emma, 337-7604. For information about EDGE Outreach, visit the website

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