When Chloe Christensen was 8, she had an unusual birthday request.
“Chloe didn’t want any presents. She just wanted her friends to bring shoes that she could donate to area charities,” Kelly Christensen said Thursday afternoon, after she and Chloe had returned from a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., where Chloe was honored for being one of Missouri’s top youth volunteers.
Chloe, 14 and an eighth grader at Bernard Campbell Middle School in Lee’s Summit, joined Shae Smith, 15, of Bolivar, Mo., in being honored for outstanding volunteer service during the 24th annual presentation of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Shae and Chloe – along with 100 other youth volunteers from across the country – received a $1,000 award and recognition from Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis at an award ceremony and dinner held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. They were chosen from among more than 29,000 nominees.
They also each received a silver medallion, the trip to Washington, D.C., for four days of events that included tours of Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s office.
“I got 87 pairs of shoes on my eighth birthday,” said Chloe, as she sat on her couch and played with her two French bulldogs, Henry and Wyatt. “I play soccer, so I got some soccer shoes, and tennis shoes, and flip flops – some were new and some were gently used.
“But it was just so cool to get those shoes.”
Over the past six years, the pairs of shoes Chloe has collected has skyrocketed from 87 to more than 50,000. Many of them are in a storage facility in Lee’s Summit, awaiting pickup by Soles4Soles, a non-profit social enterprise that sends shoes around the world to those who can’t afford footwear.
“When I was 8, I had everything – all the toys and clothes any kid would ever need, and I heard that there were little kids who couldn’t go to school because they didn’t have shoes,” Choe explained. “They may develop cuts on their feet that lead to infection, which may result in the spread of disease and even death. So I knew I wanted to collect shoes, any kind of shoes.”
She saw an ad about a girl collecting shoes for Soles4Souls and knew right away that she wanted to collect year-round. To motivate her friends to collect footwear, Chloe held a contest with her soccer team to see who could collect the most shoes. Shen then hosted a skate night, a dinner at a restaurant and other events.
She began talking to school groups and community organizations about the impact a single pair of shoes can have on a person, worked with a local television station to make a commercial for PBS Kids Network, and, with the help of her mother, created Facebook and Instagram accounts to publicize her cause. When people have shoe donations for Chloe, they drop them off either at her home or at a warehouse where she stores the shoes.
“When we have a truckload full of shoes, which we just about have now,” Kelly said, “we get in touch with the folks at Soles4Souls and they come pick them up. They are a great organization to work with.”
Because of Chloe, many of her friends now ask for charitable items in lieu of gifts at their birthday parties.
“We’re impressed and inspired by the way these honorees have identified problems facing their communities and stepped up to the challenge to make a difference,” said Charles Lowrey, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, Inc.”
Added Christine Hardy, the president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, “These students have not only done important work in support of people in need – they’ve also shown their peers that young people can, and do, create meaningful change.”
Christensen, who will be a freshman at Lee’s Summit North High School in the fall, said she will continue her volunteer efforts throughout high school.
“I want to do so much more,” Chloe said. “I want to make a mission trip, to see where the shoes are going and who they are helping. I want to get more kids involved, and I think that will be easier once I am in high school.
“And I want to collect 100,000 shoes – that would just be amazing. Think of all the people, especially little kids, that would help.”