Pictured top, families had the opportunity to browse for shoes outdoors behind Grace Church at Saturday’s First Blessing shoe giveaway.

Pictured bottom right, from left: Skyla Robinson, Kellie Lee, Grayson Lee, and Gaven Link will wear their new athletic shoes to school in Cayuga this month. Their dad, Edwin Link of Bois d’Arc (standing), helped with their selections.

Pictured bottom left,  Jorhay Donnell, 3, fits a shoe on the foot of brother A.J. Weatherly, also 3. Both children are beginning Head Start at Washington Early Childhood Center in Palestine this month.

Roughly 175 kids are starting school on the right foot, thanks to a shoe ministry and local churches that raised roughly $4,000 to furnish about 200 pairs of new shoes.

Kids smiled and proudly held up their new shoes proudly after selecting a new favorite pair. 

“They’re awesome,” said Grayson Lee, 10, a student at Cayuga Elementary, holding up a pair of black name-brand athletic shoes. 

Lee attended the event with his dad, older brother, and two sisters. Sister Skyla Robinson, 14, will use her shoes for running track at Cayuga High School.

The family was one of many who attended Saturday’s shoe giveaway. Stacey Wickware, a mother of five, was also grateful. “Over the summer their feet have grown,” she said. “The new shoes will help them be prepared for school.”

This year’s event, held at Palestine’s Grace Church, followed different procedures to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Fewer volunteers attended, and although more kids received shoes this year, they arrived at staggered intervals to allow for social distancing. 

Also, the shoe store looked more like a sidewalk sale, with outdoor tables piled with shoe boxes, where families browsed while looking for their new soles. 

Joan Rhone, the event’s organizer, used food bank registries to identify families with kids who might need shoes. Rhone invited 200 children of local families to receive a new pair, but only about 175 were able to attend. 

The list included 30 or more foster children in Anderson County, said Lee Brown, Case Manager for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Trinity Valley.

“This is such a blessing for our kids,” Brown said.

CASA serves 142 children from Anderson County placed in foster homes locally and in other parts of the state. 

Rhone said she heard of First Blessing from a family member and wanted to bring the ministry to Palestine after learning that most area churches raise money for school supplies, but not shoes.

Last year’s shoe giveaway was the first involving First Blessing in Anderson County. The shoe ministry, founded by former shoe retailer Glenn Lackey of Temple, supplied the shoes, while roughly 70 volunteers provided breakfast and other services at the First Presbyterian Church in July.

Rhone received help from a range of volunteers, including church members from FBC, Grace Church, and First Christian Church, nine Palestine firefighters and two policemen, and seven from Anderson County Farm Bureau, who served a breakfast and lunch of pancakes and sausage to all guests and volunteers.

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