Hundreds of families lined up along Carew Street at the Boys & Girls Club on Saturday to receive a free pair of sneakers, a satchel and what sponsors call a “Hope Tote” just in time for the new school year.
Vox Church and the Restoration Worship Center have partnered with Samaritan’s Feet International to distribute approximately 600 pairs of athletic shoes and school supplies to preschool through high school children.
In addition to the sneakers and the backpack, the Hope Tote of hygiene products completed the back-to-school gift.
Vox Church pastor Matt DeCiccio said the two churches have pooled their resources to work with Samaritan’s Feet International to make Sneaker Day possible.
“It is an effort to bless these children as they return to school,” he said. “No child will be left behind if they arrive before 2:00 pm. We will pool all of our resources to ensure that every child who shows up will receive or promise a pair of shoes.”
Restoration worship center pastor Eli Serrano said he grew up in poverty in Holyoke and heard about the sneaker program for him.
“Sneakers have always been a big thing for kids and still are,” he said. “Anyone who grew up in poverty knows that when you have a new pair of sneakers it is a game changer. It is confidence, it is comfort, and in many ways it is the ultimate expression of the gospel. It’s about giving, not getting. So we wanted to join forces with our friends to give back to the city. “
As each child received their shoes, volunteers ritually washed their feet and said a prayer for each.
Ruth Silva is a first grade teacher in the department at Holyoke School. She volunteered at Saturday’s event to outfit the kids with their new sneakers.
“Jesus said to pray and bless the children,” she said. “I can do this like my job, but I also have to do it here too. I can bless their feet and say a prayer that they have a blessed year and that God protect them and give them wisdom and confidence.
Clarissa Rivera brought her 5-year-old son and nephew after seeing an ad about the giveaway on Facebook.
“I said to myself: ‘why not? “Ask the children to find out more about God, the church and have a new pair of sneakers,” she said.
Phil Campbell is the group’s regional manager and has transported the 600 pairs of shoes to Springfield in time for Saturday’s distribution. He explained that Samaritan’s Feet is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, but was created by Nigerian businessman Manny Ohonme. He said Ohonme received his first pair of shoes from an American missionary in Lagos, Nigeria, when he was 9 years old. Ohonme then emigrated to the United States and became a philanthropist, social entrepreneur, businessman, author and speaker. In 2005, he returned to Lagos to attend his father’s funeral and had an epiphany.
“These shoes changed her life,” Campbell said of Ohonme. “When he returned to Lagos and went to the same park where he received his first shoes and saw all the children there barefoot, he realized that God wanted him to fix it, just like this man who l ‘had blessed years earlier. “
Since its founding, the nonprofit has distributed more than 8.3 million pairs of shoes in more than 108 countries and 450 US cities.
None of the children at Saturday’s event were barefoot, but Campbell said poverty in the United States is different from that in Nigeria.
“We are giving out new sneakers, maybe not to kids who haven’t had shoes before, but we’ve already made three pairs today for kids who haven’t had a new pair of shoes before. . They always had gifts. We have already had several children who came here with shoes at least two sizes too small. So today we are fitting them correctly with a brand new pair.
Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno welcomed families inside the Boys & Girls Club and thanked churches for their attention to the city, saying both have provided much needed help.
“They are making constant efforts to help the community,” he said. “It’s a massive crowd here today, and these groups are here to help our families and our students, and just as important, with a little prayer. A little prayer never hurt anyone. It just shows the humanity of the city that these people are making sure that our children are ready to go back to school. It is all part of the magnificent mosaic of the city of Springfield.