Throughout Appalachia, it not uncommon, in fact, it’s more likely the norm, that children show up for school wearing worn out, hand-me-down shoes, often with more “hole” than “soul,” or even worse, arriving for class wearing nothing but flip-flops on the coldest days of winter.

That’s why many years ago, Americans Helping Americans® initiated our Barefeet program, either shipping thousands of pairs of shoes to our partner organizations just before the start of the new school year for distribution, along with thousands of backpacks filled with school supplies, to ensure students appropriate footwear to keep their feet warm and dry all winter long, or by providing our partners with cash grants enabling children to go into a shoe store and pick out their very own pair of brand-new shoes, for many for the very first time.

Despite the fact that so far this year most schools have not yet resumed in-class learning, that does not mean these children do not need – and deserve – a new pair of shoes as the cold winter days will be here be for we know it.

In Beattyville, Kentucky, our partner there,  the Lee District Family Resource Center (FRC) located in the Lee County Elementary School, works with children in grades K-5 and their parents, children, grandparents, and guardians to reduce non-academic barriers for them, explained coordinator Paige Denniston.

“We work to provide shoes, clothes, school supplies, food, housing, counseling, and other forms of service,” says Paige. “It is the mission of the FRC to make sure that all parents and students have the items the child needs to succeed in school and feel good about themselves and meet their goals. We strive to ensure all children are treated equally and have every opportunity to succeed in school.”

Pages notes that a New York Times report from a few years ago, that Lee County is considered to be one of the “hardest” places to live in the country “based on poverty levels, college education, household income, joblessness, disability rates, and life expectancy.

“Due to these factors, many of our children don’t even have the basic needs and items such as warm clothes, shoes, and school supplies are not considered ‘needs,’ they are considered luxuries.”

Through the Barefeet cash grant program, Paige explained that “Students, who are deemed by the FRC and staff to be in dire need of new shoes and the boost in self-esteem that would accompany receiving this necessity, will be taken to a local business to purchase a pair of shoes that fit properly and are age-appropriate, allowing them to get long-term use.”

She also pointed out that there is no other local program where children are allowed to actively participate and select their very own brand-new shoes adding, “Often children are given whatever shoes are available, and often these do not fit properly.”

And without Americans Helping Americans® Barefeet program, “Most students would continue to go without properly fitting shoes that are in good condition, leading to foot conditions and mental worry, which takes their focus off their academics.”

The story is much the same in Gainesville and Cleveland, Georgia, were our both our long-time partner’s LAMP Ministries and Caring Hands Ministries, respectively, use the funding available to them through our Barefeet program to purchase shoes for the children most in need in their communities.

LAMP Ministries was founded in 1995 with the mission of changing the world by changing the lives of children, one child at a time.

“As the needs of our community has grown over the years, our mission has grown to include reaching out to children, parents, teenagers, and all in Hall and surrounding counties,” says LAMP executive director Mary Mauricio. “Due to COVID-19 this year the needs of those in the communities we serve are greater than ever.”

And with the Barefeet program cash grant, with a relatively small amount of money per child, Mary will be able accomplish the easily rectified problem of ensuring that “children who have worn out shoes, or shoes that are too small, will have shoes that fit to wear to school and out to play.”

Caring Hands Ministries was founded in 1995 and remains to this day a non-profit organization driven entirely by volunteers, most of whom who have experienced firsthand themselves what it means to be in need of assistance during the most difficult times of their lives, which executive director Lafaye Murphy notes “provides a new level of caring in what we do.”

Lafaye told us that in Cleveland and the surrounding area they serve “there’s a large impoverished community.

“Often only one pair of shoes is provided every few years and then is passed on to younger siblings afterwards, which means they become worn out quickly and become ragged. In some situations, such as during wintertime, a large know of students are known for wearing only sandals – even in the snow – as they were bought for just $1 during the summer.

“The lack of proper shoes often leads to bullying, suspensions from school due to ‘lack of proper appearance,’ and injuries to the children (including frostbite) from the elements and ill-fitting shoes (which can cause blisters and lead to infections).

“In our area, very few programs provide new shoes for children,” she added. “We’re one of the very few which serves as many children as possible with a pair of brand-new shoes. Thanks to Americans Helping Americans® we have been able to help many children and families each year.”