An East Elementary School first-grader wasn’t the only child wearing new shoes and a big smile on a recent morning in the JCPenney store at Monroe Crossing, even though the store – and the mall – hadn’t officially opened for the day.
“These shoes jump really high,” he said, pointing down at the brand-new, red-trimmed, black tennis shoes on his feet
He jumped – really high – in the middle of JCPenney. And then he smiled a really big smile.
He was among more than 40 East Elementary students getting new shoes through a program funded and organized by members of First Presbyterian Church of Monroe.
This is the seventh year the church’s Witness and Service Committee has sponsored “Children’s New Shoes at Christmas,” said committee member Joanne Kitchin.
She said the church typically buys 50 pairs of shoes for students at East Elementary School and another 50 pairs for students at Walter Bickett Elementary School.
The children receiving the shoes are selected by school counselors who collaborate with teachers to determine which students have the greatest need.
Kitchin said she’s seen some students who’ve been wearing shoes that are falling apart or are several sizes too small. One girl was wearing her mother’s old shoes because she could no longer wear her own, Kitchin said. Some children lack socks, so the program provides those too. This year they gave two pairs of socks to each child.
Employees from JCPenney visited the schools in advance to measure each child’s foot. When the employees returned to the store, they picked out two styles of tennis shoes for each student in his or her size and organized the shoe selections with the children’s names. When the children arrived, they were able to try on the two pairs of shoes and decide which pair they wanted to keep.
The schools were scheduled on different days earlier this month and arrived by bus. They were greeted by church volunteers, JCPenney store manager Kyle Craigie, and a friendly, waving red-nosed reindeer played by JCPenney employee Kim Brammer.
Once they stepped in the store, they found even more reasons to smile.
They were led into the mall’s festive center for breakfast provided by Chick-Fil-A; a one-on-one visit with Santa (with a photo, courtesy of Monroe Crossing); and a chance to spend more time with Rudolph.
East Elementary School Counselor Paul Debnam said many of the kids at his school face everyday struggles, and shoes are one piece of the puzzle.
“It’s not just the shoe-giving,” he said, “but also the bigger picture” of feeling special and getting in the Christmas spirit.
Kitchin said she and church member John Milliken started the program seven years ago after hearing about a similar program in Rockingham County.
Church member Cindy Mitchell said the whole process is very uplifting for kids and volunteers.
“The kids have a wonderful time and leave so happy,” she said. “We church people have a wonderful time, too. …. It always puts us in the Christmas spirit.”
Store Manager Kyle Craigie said some store associates have been moved to reach into their own pockets to buy additional items for the kids.
“A couple of kids have needed more than shoes,” he said.
Sales clerk Debbie Hancock said helping with First Presbyterian’s shoe program is a privilege.
After the students received their shoes, breakfast and time with Santa, they gathered to give a message to all the people who had made their morning at the mall possible.
“Thank you” they yelled happily, in unison.
Their smiles were even brighter than Rudolph’s nose.