By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Less than a year into its existence, Generation Church in North Tonawanda has made a commitment to making a difference — one foot at a time.
The church will host a shoe-cutting party at 7 p.m. Wednesday at its site at 1001 E. Robinson St., North Tonawanda. The event is held in conjunction with the organization Sole Hope, which focuses on providing footwear for children in African countries, including Uganda.
Participants will use recycled items including blue jeans and plastic to cut patterns for the shoes, which are sent to the charity and on to its facility in Uganda, which employs widows and pays them a fair wage to make the shoes, said Chad Rieselman, pastor of the church.
“Generation is a brand-new church. We just opened our doors in September,” he said. “We are a diverse community of people of all ages that seeks to question the status quo and see what we can do about spreading the good news of the Gospel. One of the ways that we do that is by saying, ‘How can we partner with organizations that are making a huge impact, locally or globally?’
“We believe the church is designed to do something, not just be something. Being a new church, we went to set a precedent that we’re here to make a difference in our community, our state and globally.”
The Sole Hope event was suggested by Meredith and Noelle McLaughlin, sisters-in-law involved with the church, after Noelle, who was looking for Christmas gifts that were a little more meaningful, looked for a present with a little more meaning when she came across the organization.
Then they brought the idea to Rieselman.
“One thing lead to another and we said, ‘What can we do as a church to help people in Uganda?’ “ Meredith McLaughlin said. “We found they have a big need for these children who suffer from getting jiggers in their feet and that there’s a very simple way to help. We said ‘Why not?’ ... It’s not very hard, but it’s something we can do.
“It’s funny how it all started just from a Christmas gift.”
Sole Hope, based in Asheville, N.C., was started several years ago by Asher Collie after she saw a YouTube video showcasing the plight of Ugandan children infected with jiggers, small small fleas that enter bare feet and burrow into the skin to lay their eggs.
According to the World Health Organization, people who do not wear shoes, such as children, are most commonly affected, and if untreated, the infestations can lead to infections, paralysis or amputations.
Ashley Redburn of Sole Hope said in an email that, at this time, the organization offers jobs to 19 women in Uganda who would otherwise have no way to provide for their families.
“This creates healthier children and the ability for families to stay together,” she wrote. “Often the children that we see at our jigger removal clinics ... can’t function normally anymore. ...  With their jiggers removed, some follow up care, and a closed toe pair of shoes these children often make a 100 percent recovery.”
Noelle McLaughlin said she appreciates the fact that the organization makes a difference in a number of ways.
“I like that they’re a smaller organization. I feel like what we’re doing really makes a big impact,” she said. “I really like that they’re tackling it in this way. It’s amazing that they’re promoting medical relief and shoes for kids, but also that they’re providing jobs for people who need them. It’s not just charity, it’s sustainable.”
Rieselman said there’s been a lot of interest in Wednesday’s event. Children at the church have been very involved with collecting donations for the materials for the patterns, which has been a focus — and a valuable lesson — for the children’s ministry.
“When you can’t walk, you can’t be a normal kid,” he said. “Our kids are learning that there are kids around the world who don’t have it like we have it here.”
Those who plan to take part in the shoe-cutting party should send a message through Generation Church’s Facebook page or call the church at 694-1487 before the event.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Shoe-cutting party for non-profit organization Sole Hope • WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday • WHERE: Generation Church, 1001 E. Robinson St., North Tonawanda. • FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.ntgeneration.org or the group's Facebook page. Pastor Chad Rieselman asks that those planning to attend the shoe-cutting party let the church know by sending a message through Facebook or calling 694-1487. For more information on Sole Hope, visit www.solehope.com.