0

SOULFUL GIVINGS: Teen's shoe project brings

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

DULUTH -- The original idea called for 1,000 pairs of shoes. High heels, track shoes, flip-flops, steel-toe boots -- it didn't matter.

Five weeks and a boatload of community support later, a heap of 2,550 sneakers, pumps and rugged work boots towered in the Duluth garage of Spencer Frendt, a budding philanthropist seeking the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.

"They just kept on coming," said Spencer, 17, a senior at Greater Atlanta Christian. "I said if they keep on coming, I'll keep giving people a blessing of shoes."

A blessing indeed. The shoe-mound's original destination was Uganda. Enter a 7.0-magnitude earthquake and unthinkable devastation, and the shipment will be taking a U-turn to Haiti, Spencer said.

Spencer and his family trucked the donations Jan. 18 to a warehouse in Roanoke, Ala., where they'll be handled by Nashville-based shoe charity Soles4Souls. The organization has distributed more than 7 million pairs of shoes since organizers started it in 2005, inspired by the mass destruction and poverty left by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

A truck-full of donations takes planning. A 50-plus page, detailed plan, in fact, as required by Spencer's Eagle Scout guidelines.

He organized a handful of shoe drives -- including hitting paydirt (1,000 pairs) at his Sugarloaf United Methodist Church -- and set out bags in his neighborhood with flyers soliciting shoes. He classifies the response as "unreal."

An additional 252 pairs have arrived after the allotted cutoff date, "so we shipped those to (Soles4Souls) after the fact ... for a total of 2,802 pairs given and delivered," said Spencer's mother, Sandy Frendt.

Eagle Scout is the highest rank attainable in America's Boy Scouting program, requiring at least 21 merit badges and a surplus of leadership potential. Spencer estimates about one in 100 of his Scouting cohorts have achieved the rank.

Chris Clark, an Eagle Scout advisor, said Spencer sidestepped the easy-route projects -- building benches or church walkways, for example -- and tackled an idea with more far-reaching potential.

"He was very motivated, very energized about the prospect of doing something unique," Clark said. "I think he's got phenomenal leadership potential, just a tremendous character and gift for organization and leadership. (He understands) what the priorities of life really are."

Ask Spencer -- a seasoned missionary and hopeful University of Georgia student this year -- how the project inspired him, and humility bubbles to the surface.

"I was very humbled by it," Spencer said. "I've been giving blessings my whole life. I felt the need to bless 2,500 more people, to make them happy."