ES Rotary gives shoes to local kids
Leaving the shoe giveaway hosted by the Eureka Springs Rotary Club on Sunday afternoon, Michael Pannell Sr. made sure to thank as many people as he could.
"I shook about everybody's hand in there I could find," Pannell said. "I've got a lot of kids, so it's a blessing for sure."
The Rotary Club teamed up with Samaritan's Feet, a nonprofit that provides shoes to children and adults internationally, to provide shoes for Carroll County children in need. Rotarian Cathy Handley said the club raised money for the event through its annual Victorian Classic.The Victorian Classic is a 5K race and a one-mile fun run.
"We thought shoes tied in with running," Handley said.
She explained how Samaritan's Feet works, saying volunteers wash the feet of those in need before giving them a new pair of socks and shoes. With school slated to start Monday, Aug. 17, Handley said the Rotary Club scheduled the shoe giveaway at the perfect time. Office Depot, she added, donated backpacks and a few school supplies to the event as well.
"Most of the kids we get here can't afford new shoes," Handley said, noting that there's no criteria to determine which children receive shoes. "If you're in need, you get them. Your need is your need."
The shoes were available for children of all ages.
Handley recalled first working with Samaritan's Feet in Africa before deciding to host the same event in Carroll County. The nonprofit began more than 30 years ago when Emmanuel Ohnonme, a young Nigerian boy, received a pair of shoes from an American missionary. Ohnonme went on to receive a master's degree in the United States; after finding success in the technology industry, he founded Samaritan's Feet to help others the same way the missionary helped him.
"That missionary spoke inspiration into the life of our founder. That interaction changed the trajectory of his life," said Graham Gibbs, director of development for Samaritan's Feet.
Gibbs noted how volunteers wash the feet of the needy, saying this fosters an intimate connection between the two. This, Gibbs said, is integral to the servant leadership aspect of the nonprofit. He recalled speaking to volunteers Sunday morning about it.
"I told them washing feet is so unique. These kids may never forget this experience, so what do we fill that memory with? We fill it with a smile. We fill it with compassion," Gibbs said.
The whole point of Samaritan's Feet, Gibbs continued, is having a positive impact on the lives of others.
"Shoes are just a vehicle we use to bring another child or adult in. It's really about connecting with that child and inspiring them and showing them that they're loved," Gibbs said.
He added that the cause is especially important in Northwest Arkansas, where he said 60 to 70 percent of the region's children qualify for free or reduced lunches in public schools. If children need food, Gibbs said, it's reasonable to assume they need backpacks and shoes.
Samaritan's Feet, Gibbs noted, is hosting events throughout Northwest Arkansas in the weeks leading up to the beginning of school as part of its back-to-school outreach.
Handley thanked Gibbs for being in Eureka Springs and said she hopes to expand the event next year. Hopefully, she said, the Rotary Club can offer shoes to adults, too.
"Next year we hope to do twice as much. I think it's something we want to see grow," Handley said.