Teenager Lexi Ricard loves shoes. “They’re absolutely fabulous,” she says. So to celebrate her 16th birthday this week, she wanted shoes. Lots of them! “She came to me to last October, saying ‘I’ve got this great idea,’ ​​” says her mom, Jody Morgan. “I’m thinking, ‘Great! What am I in for if we have to plan this far ahead? I better sit down for this one.”

Turns out Lexi wanted to do… a shoe drive. After getting her mom’s permission, she approached her youth minister, Liz Cely, from Cherokee Presbyterian Church in Gilbert, S.C. “She told me instead of having a big sweet 16 party she wanted to collect shoes for people that really needed them,” says Cely, who helped Lexi research organizations she might work with. When Lexi  heard that Soles4Souls, in Tennessee, worked with people all over the world who need shoes, she was sold. “They wash and size people’s feet and make sure each person (men, women and child) is sized appropriately. It really made me happy to think about people that would get help, it’s a really good feeling for me.Lexi began putting flyers and shoe collection bins at her church and then around town. “At first people were like, ‘we’re not sure we want all these shoes at our places of business, overflowing.’ I told them, ‘I hope they do overflow. I promise to empty them every week, or more often, if needed.’ I was amazed at how generous folks were to let me do that.”

Lexi began to tell folks about how she had gone on ministry trips with her youth in middle school, which motivated her to ask for shoes for others for her 16th birthday. “I just remember painting a house in Ohio for a woman who had a daughter my age. They were so grateful for what they received from us. I learned that we can paint a picture of God and portray that to others, through how we help them.” 

A week before her birthday,  Lexi’s story, in which she credited her church for influencing her life and the lives of others, aired on the local news in Columbia, S.C.  Now they have shoes “coming out of their ears. We have half a garage full,” says Morgan, who has counted more than a thousand shoes. “We got at least another 500 from that TV story and will probably have close to 2,000 before we’re done.”

Pastor Blaine Hill came to Cherokee as its organizing pastor in 2005, helping the new church development get chartered a year ago. He is excited and grateful for  Lexi’s Soles4Soles project. “We’re trying to be a congregation of disciples of Jesus who understand we are sent into the world as God’s presence, that our lives are a venue for the mission of God. Lexi is a great kid. I’m proud that she is selfless around this milestone in her life.”

Cherokee received a $100,000 new church development grant, payable over five years, from the General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) through Mission Program Grants, a ministry of Evangelism and Church Growth. It was during this time, in 2006, that Jody Morgan began attending Cherokee with her daughters, Lexi and Bailey, her fiancé, Gary, and his daughter, Bailey. “We wanted to start our relationship off right. We were going to try it one time… and we never left! It was such a welcoming church. When Liz came in 2008, she really connected with all our kids. I give her credit to where Lexi is today.”

Cely says that when Lexi came to her with her 16th birthday idea, it surprised her at first. “But it really made sense, because that’s the kind of person Lexi is. She’s a very caring young woman who wants to help people. I hope all of our middle school girls strive to be like her.”

 Lexi is “super excited” when she hears that, amazed by the impact of her idea to collect shoes for others on her 16th birthday. “When I painted that house for that woman and her daughter, who was my age, I was in middle school,” she says. It changed me. The church continues to teach us how to be friends with each other. If this helps younger girls follow Jesus, it would be wonderful.”