So many shoes: A stewardship story


When Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines in 1986 with her dictator husband, the authorities found thousands of shoes left behind in her closet. News media around the world marveled at the extravagance, publishing photos with a quote from Marcos, herself, saying “Let’s be clear about this. I did not have 3000 pair of shoes. I had 1,060.”

In Albemarle, North Carolina, the women at First Lutheran had far fewer shoes. Even so,  Marcos’ extravagance hit close to home. Their closets also held more than enough footwear. “I’m not a shoe person,” said Eleanor Plummer, a longtime member of Women of the ELCA at First Lutheran, “but I still have a lot of shoes.” While the world balked at Marcos’ shoe collection, the women of First Lutheran reflected on their own lives and made a change.

First, they took personal shoe inventories – “bedroom shoes and everything,” Eleanor explained. At their next monthly meeting, each woman donated $1 for every pair of shoes in her closet. They called it the Imelda Fund and gave that money to a local clothes ministry in Albemarle to buy shoes for children.

Nearly 20 years later, the women of First Lutheran continue to meet for Gather Bible study from September through May, and they continue to count shoes. At every meeting, they collect a regular offering, sending half to the North Carolina synodical women’s organization for synodical and churchwide Women of the ELCA ministries. Then they take up another collection – this one for the Imelda Fund. Every woman contributes at least $1 for every pair of shoes she purchased since the last meeting. Each month, the money goes to buy shoes for children in their community.

For the clothes ministry in Albemarle, shoes are one of the harder items to provide at no cost. Their limited stock often does not include the right sizes for kids with growing feet. When that happens, the clothes ministry turns to the Imelda Fund and the women of First Lutheran for funds to purchase shoes.

After two decades of monthly giving for shoes, the women’s relationship with neighbors in need extends beyond the Imelda Fund. Every winter, they partner with the First Lutheran men’s group to take families shopping for new clothes. While the men raise most of the money for this project, the women help by accompanying the mothers and children to stores to pick out clothes specifically for them. Eleanor’s voice cracked when she talked about this tradition, saying “It’s not Christmas until we do the shopping with the children.”

For Women of the ELCA at First Lutheran, stewardship comes in many forms. Their monthly regular offerings and annual Thankoffering provide for the synodical and churchwide ministries of Women of the ELCA. Through Imelda’s Fund, they give to their immediate neighbors in Albemarle. Through it all, they practice gratitude and the discipline of providing for others out of their abundance.