Strut Their Stuff
“Why don’t we do something with shoes?”
Those seven words were the impetus behind the popular “Shoe Strut,” an annual fundraising luncheon at the Harrisburg (Citadel), Pa., Corps. The spectacle has provided more than 2,200 pairs of shoes for needy children and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Salvation Army programs.
“Shoe Strut” began seven years ago as a project of the women’s auxiliary—known as Women INvolved (WIN).
“They were looking for a way to volunteer and network at the same time,” says Cindy Minnich, community outreach and events coordinator for The Salvation Army in Harrisburg. “They wanted to have a signature event.”
Major Elizabeth Griner, corps officer, said the women of WIN met over a pizza lunch when someone suggested, “Why don’t we do something with shoes?” At that lunch, the “Shoe Strut” was conceived.
Best foot forward
Minnich said, “They did a lot of brainstorming and decided they wanted to do something regarding shoes because women love shoes. But children also need shoes they’re not ashamed of in order to really succeed at school. So they came up with the idea of having a shoe fundraiser.”
Here’s how “Shoe Strut” works. For every $85 ticket sold at the luncheon, a child in need gets a voucher for a new pair of shoes from Boscov’s, the local department store. The Salvation Army sold 500 tickets in 2017 and 550 for this year’s event, which was held Sept. 21st at the Radisson Hotel in Harrisburg.
“That means 550 kids were able to get new shoes to their liking this year,” Minnich said.
The luncheon also raises money above and beyond the shoe vouchers through sponsorships and a silent auction. The 2017 event raised $96,000 before expenses and Minnich hoped to top $100,000 this year.
The money raised beyond the shoe vouchers—after expenses—goes to a host of Salvation Army programs such as after-school music and arts, summer youth programs, Bridging the Gap for at-risk youth, educational enrichment, breakfasts, and social services initiatives such as Pathway of Hope.
The silent auction includes new shoes donated by local retailers and the women of WIN. More than 200 other items are also involved, such as gift baskets, golf outings, overnight stays, restaurant certificates, and even a week on the outer banks of North Carolina.
Minnich said that at past events, some of the more coveted and creative prizes won have been 4th–row tickets to the Trans–Siberian Orchestra, a Keith Urban concert, and an “Ultimate Girls Night” out with a limo, dinner, and massages.
Some of the women of WIN buy shoes, handbags, jewelry, and scarves to be auctioned off, Minnich said.
Humble start to sellout
The luncheon also offers a fashion show, featuring the latest trends from local retailers. Fun contests such as the best and worst shoes at each table are good for laughs. Those winners also get to walk the runway.
Minnich said the luncheon is an opportunity to show a video that describes all the Salvation Army’s programs. Last year, a child who benefitted from the summer youth program shared her testimony.
“We do what we do with God’s help and community support,” Minnich said. “We try to get that across. We are unashamedly Christian.”
“Shoe Strut” started in 2012 with 200 guests, but the luncheon keeps outgrowing its venue, Minnich said.
“This year, we sold out at the end of April,” she said. “We have a waiting list. It’s become a really fun lunch event where our sponsors like to bring their clients or friends.”
It’s about people
A local DJ acts as master of ceremonies and creates a lively atmosphere, Minnich said.
“People like it because it’s a fun and lighthearted yet meaningful event where we get to tell our story. People will say, ‘I had no idea the Salvation Army was anything more than a thrift store or a kettle bell at Christmas time.’”
Minnich said the event has become a “great entrée into the community.”
“We’ve gotten a ton of volunteers because of it,” she said. “They’ll come to ‘Shoe Strut’ and enjoy it so much, they want to know more. It’s an electric atmosphere. There’s nothing stuffy about it.
“The success of ‘Shoe Strut’ is really because we have a group of dedicated, generous ladies in WIN who do a lot of work to make this event successful. Other corps have contacted us to try to duplicate it in their area, asking us for the marketing and other materials so they can do one.
“However, it just doesn’t work that way. It’s about the people, not about the brochure.”
Griner said the name Women INvolved actually came about because the group was comprised of younger, forward–thinking women, who thought the name “auxiliary” conjured up images of “your grandmother’s auxiliary.”
“They wanted to come up with something a bit more current and appealing to the younger set, which I believe they have done, while still maintaining the purposes and function of an auxiliary,” Griner said.
Griner said that in the first year, the women did all the hard work themselves necessary to secure sponsors and donations, send out invitations, and buy shoes and auction items.
“We have built a network within the group and within the community that—each year—enables us to serve more people more effectively and tell the Salvation Army’s story,” Griner said. “We have found that, if we keep it fun, fresh, interactive, purposeful, and share the mission of The Salvation Army, then we will have continued success.
“God has certainly blessed the efforts of these women, and we are the thankful recipients of their work.”
by Robert Mitchell