Shoe ministry

Braulio Sandoval (second from left), is going into the eighth grade, but his feet were fitted for a size 12 pair of Nike athletic shoes. Standing: Julian Sandoval. Seated: Braulio and Johanna Sandoval, and Alexus and Carmelina Acevedo (front).

Some wearing bedroom slippers, roughly 125 kids selected new pairs of shoes and socks Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church’s First Blessing shoe ministry. 

The church members’ donations — roughly $20 per child or nearly $3,000 total — filled a need for the community. Young girls who wanted sparkly pink boots could choose them; teenage boys who wanted high-profile athletic shoes could choose those, too. 

The excitement was palpable, as some children jumped to light up their shoes.

With help from dozens of volunteers, Glenn Lackey of Temple, Texas, transformed the sanctuary into a shoe store with 450 of pairs of new, name-brand shoes. Children, from nine months to 15 years, shopped for new shoes and socks to take home — or wear immediately.

[The ministry] has been a blessing for students, families — and especially for us, the volunteers,” said Rev. Gaither Bailey, whose church plans to extend and expand the program to other churches next year. “We’d like to see this as a community effort so we can reach more children,” he said. 

Instead of reaching 100-200 children, Rev. Bailey plans to reach 1,000, perhaps by teaming up with other local churches.

Upon hearing about First Blessing from a family member, Joan and Tony Rohne of FPC wanted to know if the shoe ministry was a good fit for Palestine.

After checking out other back-to-school ministries in Anderson County, the Rohnes found many churches that collect and distribute school supplies but none that give away shoes. 

To identify children who needed shoes, the Rohnes handed out applications to families who recently visited local food banks.

Lackey, a retired shoe retailer and executive, calls his ministry “relational evangelism,” which tries to connect with families in the community by filling a targeted need: Footwear for youth.

“Some children have never worn a new pair of shoes,” Lackey said. Giving a new pair of shoes to a child helps a community and shares Christian love, he said. Lackey and his wife, Deborah, co-founded First Blessings, but the event required lots of help.

More than 70 volunteers contributed their time and resources, including donations of $3,000.

Volunteers shepherded 65 families through stations inside the church. First, families were invited to sit down to a breakfast served by volunteers from Farm Bureau of Anderson County; volunteers spoke with each family.

Next, Palestine Lions Club members screened the children’s vision to determine if they needed to see an optometrist. 

At the next stop, children’s shoe sizes were measured, and each was fitted with a new pair of socks. The sanctuary was the last stop, where kids could pick out new shoes. Tables were stacked with shoe boxes taller than most of the kids. 

At the check-out table, children signed thank you cards; volunteers placed their shoes in a new plastic bag. At the last stop: A visit with Rev. Bailey, a new Bible, and an invitation to attend the church.

Members of the Palestine Fire Department, Grace Church, First Christian Church, and Sea Scout Ship 1 Unique also helped by setting up tables, unloading shoes, and greeting families. 

Lackey said roughly 150 kids were invited to receive new shoes, but only families who brought kids with them could receive them.

“The philosophy [of First Blessing] is, ‘no child leaves without shoes,’ but the children had to be present to be fitted for the shoes,” Bailey said.

Otherwise, kids would not have received their First Blessing — like the 5-year-old boy who Bailey noticed wearing puppy slippers when he entered. 

“He kicked them off and wore the new shoes home,” Bailey said.