ALBANY/BRODHEAD/MONROE -- Tom LaPointe, a parishioner of St. Patrick Parish, Albany, returned from Haiti on December 22, 2009, after a two-week trip there. He had brought with him tools and soccer balls to share with the people.
In the January 10 bulletin for St. Patrick Parish, Albany, and St. Rose Parish, Brodhead, days before a magnitude-7 earthquake struck the island, he wrote a brief account of his trip:
“During last Sunday’s Epiphany Mass, it dawned on me that I too was a distant traveler to Haiti to find the Christ Child. I was not disappointed. Jesus is there, and as he was in a poor stable, his presence is in the people on the streets of Port-au-Prince and in the rough paths and rock homes in mountainous regions.
“People came down the steep mountain path on foot and donkey to their 9 a.m. Sunday Eucharist,” he wrote. “The church overflowed out the wide back garage-like opening under a canopy of trees. Their Mass, in Creole, lasted two and a half hours. Mothers nursed their babes, young children were still, gray haired men, women, and teenagers sang. After two hours, I could only think of pancakes. After Mass there was choir practice for Christmas until one-thirty. There was no coffee break, no doughnuts, and certainly no pancakes. The kids loved the soccer balls that you gave and played mostly in ‘shower shoes.’”
The closing line read: “Oh yes, kids’ sneakers, tennis shoes would save a few toes,” recalled Jane McAuliffe, youth minister at St. Rose Parish, Brodhead, and St. Victor Parish, Monroe.
After the earthquake
That article came back to her with an even stronger import days later after hearing of the January 12 earthquake, which killed at least 220,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless on the island nation. McAuliffe pulled out the article and presented an idea to her Confirmation students: to collect tennis shoes for the children of Haiti.
“Father Mick put the message in the bulletin and the Spirit of God let that need fall on listening ears,” LaPointe wrote in a brief article for the Albany and Brodhead bulletin. Fr. Mick Moon is the pastor of the Albany and Brodhead parishes.
The idea soon spread, from the Confirmation class to St. Victor School in Monroe to the religious education classes and to the parishioners of all three parishes. One of the Confirmation students, McAuliffe said, even contacted stores in the area to see if they might donate shoes. Burlington Shoes, Walmart, and Shopko all donated shoes.
“It was so good to see the kids from St. Patrick’s, St. Rose, and St. Victor’s get together to work on a joint project like this,” she said. “They’re so very willing to reach across boundaries to help people.”
At the end of the collection, in the parish office at St. Victor Parish, were stacked 750 pairs of shoes and even 10 pairs of crutches, piled up and waiting to be sent on their way to Haiti. Another 100 pairs, along with some garden tools, were waiting in Albany.
Getting the shoes to Haiti
The time had come to send them on their way. They would be sent to Friends of Haiti, a nonprofit organization that brings people together to aid the poor of Haiti, who would arrange for their shipping. But how to get them to Green Bay?
“We debated how we would transport them. A U-Haul, a neighbor’s truck, or my 1983 Chevy dump truck with collector plates?” LaPointe wrote. “It was to be a sunny week and when I told Jane that I was going to take my truck there was hesitation in her voice, and when I walked into St. Victor’s hall I saw why. There were boxes and boxes of shoes: small ones with 10 pair, large ones 25 pair, a big one 62 pair, mid range ones 15 pair.”
In less than half an hour, though, with the help of the fifth-grade students at St. Victor School, the truck was packed, stacked, and, with considerable difficulty, strapped down, he said. McAuliffe then got a large green poster paper and made a sign for the back of the truck that read, “Happy St. Paddy’s Day. 750 pairs of shoes to Haiti.”
“The parish staff at St. Victor’s, Monroe, was very happy to get all the boxes out,” McAuliffe said with a laugh.
After a prayer with the students, in which they asked, “Please, dear Lord help this old truck get to Green Bay and the shoes to Haiti,” LaPointe picked up the rest of the shoes and tools in Albany and headed out.
LaPointe drove to Green Bay. There was trouble on the road when his truck broke down, but a helpful police officer, tow truck driver, and mechanic got him on his way again.
“The fifth grader’s prayer was being answered when Joe from Schmid’s Towing Co. picked me up,” LaPointe wrote. “The young energetic Joe loaded the Chevy up in no time, and, upon his recommendation, we pulled up to Willy’s Garage in Oregon. Willy saw the sign on the back of the truck, heard my story, and the next day was on a mission to get those shoes to Haiti. Before noon on St. Paddy’s day I was cruising down Hwy. 14 and at 4:00 the mission was accomplished.”
Making a difference
The shoes should arrive in Haiti in several weeks.
In the Monroe parish bulletin March 21, announcing the success of the collection, McAuliffe wrote: “We felt like we had witnessed a modern day miracle, the multiplication of the shoes and crutches. Good people make good things happen for those who have experienced the not-so-good.”
She thanked the many people who contributed for their generosity, including St. Victor’s Faith Formation, Confirmation, Youth Ministry, School, and Parish, the St. Rose Parish and Confirmation class in Brodhead, the St. Patrick Parish and Confirmation class in Albany, and Peace Church in Browntown.
And, she added, “thanks to Tom La Pointe who is transporting all of these and was the inspiration for the collection of shoes.”
The parishes had worked together to make a difference for people thousands of miles away. But there’s always more need.
“I know the kids would love to get some boxes of soccer balls, shoes for sure,” LaPointe wrote, but then added, “but I’m not sure if I am going to tell Fr. Mick or Jane McAuliffe this time.”