News media Contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
Getting new clothes, shoes and supplies for the school year is an end-of-summer tradition for families across the country. In August, parents and children stroll the aisles of department and discount stores selecting and purchasing the most popular fashions and accessories.
But many children do without because caregivers cannot afford to buy new items for school.
A congregation in Dodge City, Kan., is working to see that local children receive at least one of the prerequisite items for the new school year. First United Methodist Church is ensuring that needy children in kindergarten through sixth grade receive free shoes.
The shoe ministry began last year, as the congregation searched for innovative ways to have a positive effect on children. The pastor, the Rev. Michael Gardner, presented the shoe idea to the congregation after witnessing its success in another church. As a result of First Church's initial efforts, several hundred children began the 1999 school year in new shoes. The congregation raised almost $20,000 to buy nearly 650 pairs of shoes that year.
The success of helping less-fortunate children have new shoes for school led the congregation to organize another fund-raising effort for the beginning of the 2000 academic year. The church decided that any child who qualified for a free or reduced lunch at school should receive a voucher for a new pair of shoes.
"If they qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, we assume they can use help with shoes," said Dee McKnight, office manager at First Church. "Sixty percent of the students in Dodge City schools do qualify," she added.
First Church adopted this ministry for children because many members understood how important shoes are in a child’s life.
"For a lot of families, shoes are generally an expensive item, and for some families it comes down to making a choice between shoes and school supplies because money is not available for both," McKnight said. "Shoes and how they look are important to children, and we felt that this was a good morale builder for children to have new shoes to go to school."
The voucher system also helps parents by allowing them to use the savings for other family needs, she said.
The church sent letters about the shoe ministry, in English and Spanish, to parents of children in the local school district. Along with the letters, parents received application forms urging them to provide children’s ages and proof of eligibility for the school’s free and reduced lunch program.
"Last year, we gave out shoes to everyone who applied," McKnight said. On a first-come, first-serve basis, the church sends the applicant a $25 voucher toward the purchase of a pair of shoes. Regardless of how many children are in a family, each child between kindergarten and sixth grade receives a voucher if the parents apply, she said.
Six local businesses have agreements with the church to provide the shoe ministry, according to McKnight. The vouchers are sent to the applicants to buy shoes at the participating stores. The applicant presents the voucher for the shoes and the business bills the church for payment.
So far, the church has raised $9,000 for the new school year, enabling it to fill 360 of the 800 requests it has received. Money is being raised primarily through contributions from First Church's 1,200 members and other local individuals, businesses and organizations. "We raised $20,000 last year and expect that much and more to probably come to fill all of those (requests)," McKnight said.
"The voucher is for $25 but people can use it to upgrade to a higher priced shoe, like Nike," she said. The 1999 vouchers were for $30, but the church decided to issue $25 vouchers this year because most of last year's purchases were no more than amount. The vouchers are valid until Sept. 30, but McKnight said the church would try to honor the requests, as money is available.
First Church hopes to expand the ministry in the future to include students through high school.
Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, New York, and Washington.