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Saturday, 29 June 2019 16:55

The Shoelace Project as a Means of Communication

Written by David Schaffner
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David Schaffner—California Central Coast Chapter

Our chapter has organized a “Shoelace Project” for the months of June and July in St. Patrick’s Parish, Arroyo Grande. The idea for this campaign came from an NSFA article, “Compassion and Hospitality on the Border,” (March/April 2019). In this article, Jerrie Drinkwine mentioned that the detention center removes shoelaces and belts from asylum seekers as they are processed by ICE. When they are delivered to a respite center, they receive replacement shoelaces. Thus, the Humanitarian Respite Center operated by Catholic Charities in McAllen, Texas, and similar facilities along the border, need a constant supply of shoelaces.

As our chapter had been looking for a project that would focus on the plight of immigrants (and also be of help in small way in alleviating the hardships), we first met with our pastor who gave his approval. An unexpected collaborator joined us in this effort when Affiliate Joan McKenna, who works at our local hospital, owned by Dignity Health, asked if she could also conduct the project there as one of their charitable efforts. Working with the hospital chaplain, they not only collected shoelaces, but Dignity agreed to print several hundred one-page flyers (two-sided: English and Spanish) for inserting in the parish bulletin, at no cost to us. Lesson Learned: One never knows who might be allies and collaborators.

One of the challenges of this campaign is to communicate clearly what is happening on the border: We wanted parishioners to realize that these asylum seekers are here legally under international and US law while awaiting their asylum hearing. And why shoelaces, of all things, are needed. Lesson learned: It is important to communicate the facts clearly and concisely—not always easy.

A side benefit of a campaign such as the Shoelace Project is the opportunity to discuss immigration as a social justice issue. Reminders and thank you notices are running in the parish bulletin during June/July. The first of these included the opening sentence of the USCCB statement on immigration,

The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants and people on the move.

During the campaign, other quotes from either the USCCB or Pope Francis will be inserted to emphasize the point that “Welcoming the Stranger” is a part of who we are as Christians and Catholics.

Sister Anne Connolly, a Sister of Mercy working at the Humanitarian Respite Center, will receive our collected shoelaces.

At the time of this writing, over 1,000 pairs of shoelaces and some cash for shipping have been collected; the shoelaces will be packaged at our next Affiliate meeting and forwarded to one or more of the Respite Centers. This effort is being viewed as an icebreaker, both with our pastor and with the parishioners, for educational and other initiatives dealing with immigration.

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