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Ministry's focus is where rubber meets the road

Footprints Ministry hands out free sneakers of all sizes to 171 needy children from shelters and the community.

Published September 20, 2005

CLEARWATER - Without even shoes on their feet, Yolanda Johnson and her 8-year-old daughter Jada fled to the Haven domestic violence shelter.

With no home, no job, no money and no clothes except the donated hand-me-downs provided by the shelter, Johnson was thrilled that her daughter was one of 171 children to receive a new pair of sneakers Sunday thanks to Footprints Ministry.

"You never know when you'll be in this kind of situation," said Johnson, 34, of St. Petersburg. "I'm so grateful there are organizations like this to help those in need."

You wouldn't think a new pair of shoes could bring such happiness, but for those without the means, Sunday's shoe giveaway was a blessing.

Angie Pemberton, 6, who was at the event with her mother and younger sister, was so thrilled with her blue and white sneakers that she showed them off with a few good jumps and an excited "these are my favorite color!"

Rose Averill, 44, of Clearwater, who started Footprints Ministry in 2002, was thrilled with Sunday's outcome.

There were a couple of glitches, she said. "But we were able to do what we set out to do, which is meet the needs of children in the community."

Several agencies helped with the event.

Pastor I. James Mitchell offered Mount Zion United Methodist Church as a distribution place. Kip Corriveau, Grace House's program director, and staffers were there to help organize the event and to sign in participants. Lenscrafters gave free eye screenings, Pinellas County Head Start/Early Head Start explained its programs, United Healthcare provided refreshments and explained benefits, and Crime Stoppers was there with its Kid Pix ID.

Obviously, however, the main event was the bins and bins of new sneakers that Footprints Ministry's volunteers carted in for distribution. From tiny little Cookie Monster footwear to size 18 black and white Shaq sneakers, a properly fitted pair of shoes went out the door with each child.

Needy children from homeless shelters, including Religious Community Services programs and needy children from the community, were invited. While not open to the public, no child was turned away.

Footprints Ministry has grown a lot from the days when Averill drove up to local shelters and handed out two dozen shoes a night from the back of her minivan. She now gives away more than 2,000 pairs of shoes a year.

"We're like a traveling shoe store without a register," said Averill. Footprints Ministry provides the shoes and the volunteers, and the agencies provide the clients and the location.

The next planned distributions are at a mission in Tampa and a shelter in St. Petersburg. They are always in need of more sneakers, or money for more sneakers.

Putting her shopping skills to the test with each store trip, Averill looks to stretch every dollar by buying the most good-quality shoes possible. In her work she has seen kids who have never owned a new pair of shoes in their lives.

"Many agencies have clothes closets, but no new shoes," she said. "Kids need new shoes to grow and play."

Many parents said that Sunday's shoe giveaway was a blessing.

"You don't know how this helps me out," said Lucille Livingston, 40, of Clearwater, who was there with her three children.

A single parent and day care worker, Livingston says she doesn't have much money to live on. Even on sale, she said, new shoes for her three children, who are 4, 10 and 14, would cost too much.

"This is such a blessing," she said, adding that now she can start saving for the special shoes she needs due to the arthritis in her feet.

"You don't realize how important little things are 'til you come to uncomfortable circumstances," said Lillian Gomez, 31, who was there getting shoes for her son Nikoli, 3.

Afterward, Elda Johnson, 31, who is staying at the nearby Grace House shelter, was asked how her children liked their new shoes.

"They're napping," she said, "with their shoes on."

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 01:55:19]

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