This is a story about a mountain of muddy, unmatched running shoes and a farmer who couldnt stand to throw stuff away.
John Culler, a Calhoun County farmer who began in 2010 to host the U.S. Marine Corps Ultimate Mud Run on his Sandy Run farm, said he watched in amazement as the athletes kicked off their mud-caked shoes and tossed dirty T-shirts after completing the 5.2 mile obstacle course, abandoning the items rather than taking on the difficult chore of cleaning them.
The first time it was held on his property and adjacent land owned by his brother and sister, two Dumpster loads of discarded muddy shoes and clothes were carted off to the landfill.
When I saw that much stuff thrown away, I couldnt stand it, Culler, 69, said this week.
He started picking up shoes and attempted to wash them in his home washing machine, which didnt quite work.
Then he and his friend and relative Harry Bozard teamed up on what he calls his redneck washing machine, a steel and mesh tumbler that runs behind Cullers John Deere tractor.
I told him I wanted him to build a washing machine and he looked at me like I was half-crazy, Culler recalled. Originally, he planned to back the washer into his pond and let the thing turn. But his pond was low and he decided to run a hose through the machine, using a PVC pipe.
It would surprise you how good they look, after tumbling through his jerry-rigged machine, he said.
Culler started sending the cleaned shoes to an Appalachian mission project, 300 last year and another 300 this year. Gethsemane Baptist Church in St. Matthews picked up 600 pairs of shoes in April and cleaned them for distribution to the poor, returning this fall for another 800 pairs.
And now another 260 pairs squeaky clean, matched and grouped by size will be given away Dec. 10 as part of Mount Hebron United Methodist Churchs annual Goforth Mission Project, an outreach to the Midlands homeless that aims to make sure every person in need has warm clothes, a blanket and toiletries.
His sister, Ida Culler, mentioned the abandoned shoes to I.D. and Mary Hook, leaders of the Mount Hebron project, which gave the Hooks the ability to expand a clothing mission begun by their daughter Dee Dee Hook Brogan 25 years ago.
The Goforth Mission Project is named for Mary Hooks great-uncle, Frank Goforth, who spent the latter years of his life as a homeless person in Columbia, living at the Oliver Gospel Mission or out of his car. That experience shaped young Dee Dee who, with her parents, wondered what they could do for others similarly situated.
I told her why dont we do something today instead of one day, Mary Hook, a retired elementary school teacher, recalled. Since then, the church has gathered coats, hats, gloves, blankets and toilet kits for the homeless but rarely enough shoes to go around.
So the Hooks, their grandsons and other church members spent three days in Sandy Run picking up shoes and lining them up on pallets to be washed and matched. Members of Mount Hebrons youth group sized them and boxed them so those in need can quickly find a pair that fits. Dee Dee Brogan, a professional singer who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., plans to return for a Sunday concert to raise money for the project.
Mount Hebron, on Leaphart Road in West Columbia, plans to distribute 250 bags of clothing and toiletries between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Washington Street United Methodist Church.
Mary Hook said she often is asked why she bothers to provide so much largesse to people who are down and out.
It could be one of us but for the grace of God, Mary Hook said. We just keep doing because it is what Jesus would want us to do. We have to keep people warm.
Culler has invited the Hooks to come to the April Mud Run so they can gather up discarded shoes at the finish line, and he is sure Gethsemene Baptist Church folks will be there as well. That way, they say, they can let the runners know about the donation and collect matched pairs.
We should not have a single pair of shoes thrown away this next time, he said. It makes me feel a whole lot better.
Meanwhile, the farmer who prides himself on being a conservative consumer of resources, is trying to figure out what to do with about 160 shoes that have no matches.
Culler said he is hoping they could be used by amputees in countries where land mines are a major issue.