Students at Harbison West Elementary were hopping, skipping and quite literally jumping for joy as they showed off new shoes given to every child at the school.
Volunteers from NewSpring Church slipped about 440 pairs of donated New Balance sneakers on children at Harbison West Dec. 17, and about 440 children were thrilled with the pre-Christmas gift.
"It's a way we can serve our community, meet needs and help take care of our community," said Alden Ellis, pastor at NewSpring's Columbia campus.
The church has four campuses, in Columbia, Greenville, Florence and Anderson. Each church campus identifies a school that is in most need in their district, and donates shoes to those students each year. The four campuses of NewSpring donated 1,500 pairs of shoes this week.
The Columbia campus of NewSpring opened this year on Broad River Road in Irmo, so it's the first time the church has donated shoes to a District 5 school.
At Harbison West, Ellis and about 20 volunteers from his church greeted each class with cheers and warm enthusiasm.
"I think this is the kind of thing Jesus would do if he lived in Columbia today," said John Kay, one of the volunteers who took a day off work to be at Harbison West.
The "joy of a child," Kay said, is one of the most satisfying things to see.
"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me.' Well, we get to come to them."
Volunteers talked amicably with the children as they slipped the shoes on and made sure they fit.
In return, they received hugs, "thank yous" and lots of smiles. They also got to see children clutching boxes, running to teachers to show off new shoes and enthusiastic jumping.
Preschool teacher Jo Fors smiled as she watched her 3- and 4-year-old charges hop, skip and jump back to class.
"That says it all, doesn't it?" she said.
Not all of the 440 students who received the shoes, and a pair of socks, needed the generosity of NewSpring Church. Many already wore newer shoes, and several had other sneakers at home. "But I don't have a red pair," one child said, as he looked at his new black and red shoes.
But there were children who desperately needed new shoes, and probably wouldn't have gotten them if not for NewSpring. These children wore hand-me-down shoes that were too big or worn-out shoes that were too small. Regardless of their situations, all of Harbison West's children have new shoes now.
"It's awesome," said Cathy Blankenship, a four-year-old kindergarten teacher, who knew of a couple students who really benefited.
Seoul Newton, a second-grader, was excited to get his red and black shoes.
"Because I wanted to get new shoes for a long time," he said. "These felt comfortable."
Many of the girls got pink and gray shoes, and a few children got white and blue. A lot of the boys got the red and black ones.
"I like getting new shoes and I like these colors (red and black)," said Darius Weathers, a fourth-grader. "They're Gamecock colors. And I don't have any red shoes."
Darius also liked the idea of having the same shoes as many of his friends. "One day, we might wear them on the same day to school."
Harbison West principal Barbara Brockhard complimented many of the students as they walked back to class proudly strutting in their new shoes. She smiled as she watched the enthusiastic jumping and hugging.
"Doesn't everyone love a new pair of shoes?" she said.
Initially, Brockhard accepted the offer with just a smidgen of "too-good-to-be-true" skepticism, and asked a lot of questions, verified references and made a few phone calls before she consented.
And as most of the school's students filed in to receive new shoes, she was glad she had allowed the gifts.
"This is the most wonderful, generous and thoughtful gift," Brockhard said.
- Lezlie Patterson for Lexington-Richland 5