Big gymnasium. Little kids. College students. Activity books. Foot washing stations. New socks, shoes, t-shirts, and hygiene items. Conversation, laughter, and smiles – plenty of smiles.
Welcome to Shoes 4 the Soul 2022!
The annual event was hosted in the O. Wayne Rollins Center on University of the Cumberlands’ campus. It was organized by Appalachian Ministries (AM), a campus ministry through Cumberlands that regularly serves local children.
It was the first time since the pandemic began that the annual event was able to be held in person, and the staff and students who volunteered couldn’t have been more excited. The local children were happy too.
“Having that personal touch of coming onto a college campus and knowing that you are loved by the people there is an important experience for these kids,” said Caitlyn Howell, AM director. “I always love seeing the kids light up when they get here. I was super excited for it.”
Local elementary schools brought students to Cumberlands’ campus on Friday, August 26th, for Shoes 4 the Soul. The kids were paired with a Cumberlands student or staff member who was their “buddy” for the next hour or so. Buddies talked and laughed with the children while leading the kids through the gym to the foot washing stations, where volunteers washed the kids’ feet before handing them clean socks and a new pair of shoes, plus a Cumberlands t-shirt and various personal hygiene items.
The foot washing is reminiscent of how Jesus Christ washed his disciples’ feet the night before his crucifixion. Shoes 4 the Soul is an opportunity for students to follow Christ’s example of humility by serving children in their community.
“I am just speechless. Really. I had an amazing time,” said MaQuoia Bernabe, a senior at Cumberlands who volunteered as a “buddy” at the event. “The connection with the kids is so special. My kid was like, ‘I don’t want to leave,’ and I was like, ‘Then don’t leave!’ We just got to connect with the kids, learn about their families, what sports they play, how they like school, that kind of stuff. I got to give some school advice to them that I wish somebody had told me when I was their age. That was cool. I hope I see my little buddies around town. I wish we could do this every day!”
Over the past two years, AM conversed more frequently with resource officers at the schools to learn how the ministry could better serve the community and help provide for the kids’ needs while still following social distancing guidelines. For Shoes 4 the Soul 2020 and 2021, AM packed and delivered bags of shoes and supplies to local schools in the fall instead of hosting the event in person. With resource officers’ counsel, AM began providing hygiene items instead of school supplies as an extra gift at Shoes 4 the Soul (in addition to the new pair of socks and shoes that are always included). The officers identified the students in their respective schools who had the highest need and ensured that those students received the items. Overall, AM has been very thankful for the resource officers’ assistance over the years.
If the reactions of the college students and elementary kids are any indication, both groups enjoyed Shoes 4 the Soul immensely this year. There’s something special about serving others and something equally special about feeling cared for. The shoes the children were given might not fit their fast-growing feet for too long, but the memories the kids made at the event will last for a long time.
It costs just $30 to sponsor a child at Shoes 4 the Soul, providing them with a new pair of shoes and socks as well as useful hygiene items. To sponsor a child at next year’s Shoes 4 the Soul event, visit www.ucumberlands.edu/shoes4soul/give.