Thanks to the efforts of more than 400 student volunteers from the University of the Cumberlands Tuesday morning, about 500 elementary school students from four local schools got a new pair of free shoes, new socks and a new backpack full of school supplies.
Tuesday was the fifth year for the ‘Shoes 4 the Soul’ (formerly Barefoot for Barefeet) event at University of the Cumberlands, which took place over the course of three hours in the O. Wayne Rollins Center.
Jennifer Wake-Floyd, one of the organizers of the event, said this was the largest number of elementary school students that have ever participated in the program.
The foundation of this event was built in 2012 by the UC Women’s Basketball team and the Samaritans Feet organization to raise awareness of the children who go without socks and shoes on a daily basis all over the world. Together, these two teams partnered up to lay the ground work for Shoes 4 the Soul, an event that has touched the lives of almost 1,400 local children to date.
In addition to getting the new shoes, the elementary school students will also have their feet washed by the college students.
Students from 16 athletic teams took part in the event along with members of seven the Freshman Insights classes.
Members of the campus activity board also assisted with some game playing that the elementary students enjoyed before returning to school Tuesday.
Senior Dexter Wilson participated in Tuesday’s event along with fellow members of the baseball team.
“Coach informed us that we were taking part in this today. He just said that it was probably going to be a life changing experience,” Wilson said. “He really hit the nail on the head with that one. It is very life changing.”
Wilson said it was cool to interact with the youngsters and that it shows how privileged some people are and how underprivileged others are.
“I come from a big family. Family is all you have. Seeing how some kids aren’t fortunate with good families just shows you how blessed you are,” Wilson added.
Abby Livingston, a sophomore member of the wrestling team, said she wanted to take part in the event just to give back to the community.
“I know that a lot of these kids don’t have a lot. I’m just excited to bring them here and give them something fun to do. It is good to take them away from school, give them a new pair of shoes and school supplies and just let them forget about their worries for a little bit and have fun,” Livingston noted.
She added that she got as much out of the day as the students did.
“It has been really fun talking to these kids, making small talk and hearing their stories about what they do for fun and how their summer was,” Livingston added. ”
Elementary school students taking part this year were from Whitley East, Whitley North, Boston and Pleasant View elementary schools.
Wake-Floyd said that volunteers had to raise about $10,000 this year to pay for the new shoes and school supplies in addition to gas for the buses and drivers to bring the students to the event.
She said the money came from numerous donors, some of whom were local and others as far away as Tennessee, New York and Florida.
“The college itself is not out anything from this,” Wake-Floyd added. “This is my last year with Shoes 4 the Soul. I actually have accepted another job and came back just to finish this day because it means so much to me. You can’t leave here without being blessed from the smiles on the student athletes’ faces as well as the children. It means a lot to me to know that we are making a difference. Maybe one day those kids will want to go to college and realize their dreams come true – that is what it is all about.”