Do you know Tom’s Shoes? It’s a shoe company that was started about five years ago. Yes, they’re sold at Nordstrom’s and yes, they’re overpriced. But that’s where Tom’s and most designers separate.
Tom’s One for One program gives away a pair of shoes for every pair that is sold. But it’s not like a Black Friday half off deal at your local mall. If you buy a pair of Tom’s, the other pair goes to someone in a developing country who is without shoes. Many children receive their first-even pair of shoes from a Tom’s “Shoe Drop.”
I got to hear Tom’s Founder Blake Mycoskie tell his story a week ago. He was involved in a small way with a shoe drive in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He and other volunteers would solicit used shoes from the wealthy folks in town then drive to the rural areas and distribute them. An Argentinian local asked what would happen the next time the kids needed shoes. After all, they would outgrow them in a year or two.
At that point Blake asked himself if they were truly doing good or were they just making themselves feel good.
The entire audience, some 4,000 fund-raising professionals, all said “wow.”
It was after that conversation that Blake decided that just giving away used shoes wasn’t a solution. He needed a way to provide lots and lots of shoes to people who needed them. Now, some five years later, Tom’s has given away more than a million pairs of shoes.
I think this is the key question we should be asking about our missions and outreach work. When we drop that nasty can of pickled herring in the canned food drive do we really think we’re helping? Or are we just making ourselves feel better and making a little more room in the pantry for food we really want?
I think one of the keys is the depth of involvement. What Blake experienced in Buenos Aires was a “hit and run” mission project. These volunteers flew in for three days, collected and distributed some shoes and flew home.
Tom’s has a long-term commitment to the problem. Tom’s shoes are made in these developing countries, providing employment without the exploitation that many shoe companies have over their employees.
How many of our mission projects are of the same “hit and run” approach? A few members of our church give an hour or two on Saturday, we announce it on Sunday morning and we all feel good.
What need is there in your community that your church could devote a thousand volunteer hours to in the next year? What is a mission model that lets the kids, the young adults, the seniors and the physically challenged in your congregation to be involved?
What problem can you provide leadership to solving rather than just being part of a “me too” afternoon?
Blake had nothing bad to say about the women he encountered on his first shoe project and I’m not bashing any mission work that a church does. I’m just inviting you to dig deeper and make sure that what you’re doing is truly doing good, rather than just feeling good.
Yes, motivations are complicated. Some of them are even unconscious! But it doesnt have to be an either/or. There might always be some ego in every good deed, but that doesn’t negate the good deed. We can both do good and feel good. Important thing is not to feel spiritually Superior as a result!
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