(Photos by Leonna Heuring, Staff)
Every year around Christmas time the Sikeston Optimist Club, Shady Acres Church of Christ, SEMO Christian Academy, Sikeston R-6 Schools and other volunteers come together to ensure students preschool through second grade in the Sikeston area are entering winter with new shoes.
School nurses and teachers refer students to the project while the Sikeston Optimist Club donates the shoes and socks are provided by the SEMO Christian Academy students. Shady Acres Church of Christ provides the facility for shoe fittings.
"We're bringing socks because little children's mommas don't have no money to buy socks because they need food," D.J. said.
Preschooler Emma Spraggs said she also brought socks to donate to the effort because some children's socks might have holes in them.
Over 250 pairs of shoes are expected to be placed on the feet of area youngsters this year, said Nannette Morris of the Sikeston Optimist Club.
"When the program started we were just doing shoes, but some of them didn't have appropriate socks to wear with their shoes so we started offering socks," Morris said.
In 1973, more than 100 pairs of shoes were fitted and in 1986, the number climbed to 400 pairs of shoes fitted. The inventory has grown so much over the years, Shady Acres Church of Christ even built "shoe rooms" strictly for the Shoe Project.
In order to meet the needs of the children, 1,200 pairs of shoes are needed to match the children with a perfect fit, Morris said. The Optimist Club purchases shoes from a wholesaler in Tennessee, and a truck driver from Pullen Brothers of Sikeston picks up the shoes, she said.
Good Humor-Breyers, or Unilever, provides popsicles for children to eat while waiting to be fitted for shoes.
For several years, Atmos Energy has furnished hats and gloves for children, too.
Paula Stinnett, school nurse for Matthews Elementary in Sikeston, said the project is very much needed for some of the children in the area.
"Some of these kids have holes in their shoes. One of children didn't come to school today wearing socks. For some of them, their shoes are usually too little," Stinnett said. "And it's a treat for them to come on a field trip."
Often times children are wearing the shoes they were given the previous year when they come to get fitted for new shoes, said project volunteer Kenny Worley who helps put shoes on the children.
"It's a humbling experience for me and takes me back to my childhood. I was not fortunate to come from a family with a lot of money," said Worley of Blodgett.
Sometimes children of parents who have adequate money take shoes for granted, said Optimist Club member Murray Sullivan, who also helps size children for appropriate shoes.
"These kids are just kids. They're so happy to get shoes," Sullivan said. "When they get those new shoes on, they look down at their feet and admire their shoes. Some take off running and jumping.
Sullivan said it makes his day to help with the project.
"I think I benefit more than the kids," he said.