WILLIAMSBURG — Appalachian Ministries, an outreach program hosted by University of the Cumberlands, recently delivered a total of 497 pairs of new shoes, sweatshirts, and hygiene items to six local schools for their annual Shoes 4 the Soul event. Schools included were Whitley North, Pleasant View, Pine Knot, Oak Grove, Boston, and Whitley East Elementary Schools.
“Every business, outreach program, and educational institution has been forced to think outside the box ever since the pandemic hit,” said Caitlyn Howell, director of AM. “It’s been very challenging for us, but, fortunately, we have found ways to continue serving our community despite the obstacles.”
Appalachian Ministries has hosted Shoes 4 the Soul each year since 2011. Approximately 500 children are served per year. The kids typically arrive on Cumberlands’ campus one day in early fall, after Cumberlands students have arrived on campus. Student volunteers join the Appalachian Ministries team in the O. Wayne Rollins gymnasium and spend a few hours serving the schoolchildren.
The children get their feet washed by a Cumberlands student – reminiscent of how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in the Bible – and receive a clean pair of socks, a new pair of shoes, and hygiene items (or, in some years, school supplies). The kids then get to play small recreational games with the college students until it’s time for them to go back to school.
For the kids, it’s a chance to hang out with cool college students and receive shoes and supplies they might not have enjoyed otherwise. For Cumberlands students, it’s a humbling experience in which they get a glimpse of Christ’s love for them and for the world.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the event was unable to be held in person. To ensure the students were still blessed with the shoes and hygiene items they’re used to receiving each year, Appalachian Ministries coordinated socially-distanced donation deliveries to the schools.
Howell said, “It is such a joy to work with a school that is constantly looking for ways to pour back into our local community. Through this project every year, I am reminded of the responsibility we have to faithfully serve those around us, regardless of the circumstances. As Christ has faithfully loved us, so we are called to love one another.”
This was the first year Pine Knot Elementary participated in Shoes 4 the Soul. Regina Campbell-Spring, family resource officer at the school, has purchased shoes, hygiene items, and similar essential products before for Pine Knot students.
“We were thrilled with the donation from Appalachian Ministries. Shoes are important to protect their feet,” Campbell-Spring said. “Even students doing virtual schooling still need get outside and play. We service between 800-900 students at our buildings. We are very thankful to receive this donation. It is a blessing, and we thank God for providing for us through Shoes 4 the Soul this year.”
Campbell-Spring noted how children often grow so quickly that their feet are sometimes crammed into shoes that are too small for them. Some children run around outdoors barefoot because their shoes don’t fit, even in cold winter weather.
Pleasant View and Boston Elementary Schools have participated in Shoes 4 the Soul every year since it began. Shirley Lawson, family resource coordinator for the schools, said she loves that Cumberlands takes the time to invest in the lives of the schoolchildren.
“The students love when they get the new shoes. A lot of them never receive new shoes except for the ones given out at this event,” said Lawson. “The faculty is as excited as the students. The kids come in with a different attitude and are very excited to show off their new shoes. It gives them a confidence boost.”
Shoes 4 the Soul is an annual event which is made possible by the generosity of donors. Sponsoring a child costs only $30. To donate, visit www.ucumberlands.edu/shoes4soul/give. For more information about Appalachian Ministries and University of the Cumberlands’ other outreach programs, visit www.ucumberlands.edu.