Tables Turn for Charity's Founder

"Share Your Souls" founder loses almost everything when fire guts her modest Alsip apartment

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Mona Purdy runs a well-known charity for people in need, but now she's trying to put her life back together after losing everything in an apartment fire.

    For 13 years, Mona Purdy has devoted her life to provide shoes to some of the world's neediest families.

    But after an electrical fire gutted her modest Alsip apartment, Purdy finds herself in one of the few challenges she says she's not equipped to handle.

    While she reminds herself that no one died in the fire, "everything, everything is gone." Her well-worn passports are barely legible, and a cherished medal from her first Chicago Marathon looks like something from a landfill.

    Purdy, the founder of "Share Your Souls," recently returned from Mexico where she handed out 3,000 pair of new and gently-used shoes.

    "I came back sick but happy," she said, her style blunt but always infused with humor, even in the face of less-than-desirable circumstances.

    She's proud of a cardboard hut she's erected in the vast donated warehouse in Alsip that serves as her charity's home.

    "This would be a family home in Mexico or a garbage dump in Ecuador or Peru," she said, describing the structure that hundreds of students see each week as they arrive to learn about giving back.

    The crudely-assembled paper house shows them firsthand how the people receiving the shoes actually live in their third world countries.

    Now, referencing her own circumstances, Purdy jokes a consideration to change the name on it to "Casa Mona." Coming from a burned-out apartment, she said, it looks inviting.

    She's being facetious, of course, but it's her way of coping with her personal predicament.

    "We don't save lives," she explained. "But we sure as hell change them, and I don't really ask for me because my needs are so simple."

    Purdy appears incapable of worrying about herself, instinctively directing talk to the people she tries to help. When she is asked why it's easier to talk about that, rather than her own situation, her answer draws tears.

    "I haven't gotten there yet," she said.

    Not surprisingly, most of her charity's big warehouse is filled with shoes and a few piles of walkers and crutches, anything that helps people be mobile. There are preparations under way for her third trip to Haiti. Donated shoe shipments are already being assembled.

    After Haiti, she'll be off to Uganda. There's a never-ending need for the woman who fulfills it; even in the midst of her own crisis.

    "It's never been about me because I have everything I need," she said, her voice softening. "Or I had everything I need."

    Purdy has friends volunteering at her charity, as well as people she's met along the way who are helping her find shelter and replacement furniture. But true to form, she'd rather the attention focus on the organization in the form of new or gently-worn shoes or financial contributions.

    Share Your Soles is online at ShareYourSoles.org.

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