Richmond churches hand out free shoes to students: ‘It’s a blessing to them’

RICHMOND, Va. -- Families camped outside a Richmond church early Monday morning to ensure their children were able to receive a free pair of new shoes to start the school year.

The "New Shoes for Back to School Ministry," put on by the Richmond Partnership of Churches, gave out more than 2,000 pairs of shoes at two Richmond locations: Bethel A.M.E. Church and the Southside Community Center.

Joseph Fitzgerald and his son Keven were at the front of the line Monday morning. They said they had been waiting outside the church since around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

"All night. Haven't been asleep yet. Probably won't be asleep for a little while longer," Joseph said.

He explained his family had fallen on hard times recently.

"I recently had a stroke, so I've been out of work for a couple months now," he said. "Just being able to afford a pair of shoes has been a real, real challenge for me and my family right now."

Monday morning the waiting paid off as dozens of volunteers opened the doors to the church and allowed students like Keven inside to pick out new shoes.

While students inside tried on shoes, the line outside the church continued to grow.

Volunteers walked up and down the line in an effort to keep spirits high. Some passed out water bottles. Louise Robinson danced in the street.

"I'm just trying to make everybody feel good out here -- make everybody happy," Robinson said. "I like to make people laugh, and it feels good that we can do this and it's a blessing to them that they can wear shoes back to school tomorrow."

In event's first year, the Richmond Partnership of Churches gave away 712 shoes. A dozen years later, organizers said they'd given away more than 82,000.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.