By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
It had been years since he had been to a shoe store.
So long in fact, when the boy was offered a brand-new pair of running shoes, he was certain he wore size eight. Two hours later, he returned to the office with several blisters that made it almost impossible to walk. He was devastated at the idea of giving them back, but when he received a new and larger size — turns out, he wears a size 11 — he was elated.
“He’s really shy, and he never stands out,” a school counselor told Jessica Johnson, coordinator for the ATLAS program in Rutherford County.
The counselor added, “He told me he never had a new pair of shoes before.”
This particular student was one of 600 students throughout the county to benefit from a gracious donation from Nashville-based nonprofit Soles4Souls, to the RCS ATLAS Program which provides services for students who are homeless or displaced.
More than 300 pairs of shoes have been delivered to date — David Youree, John Colemon, Roy Waldron, Stewartsboro and Wilson elementary schools; Lavergne and Rocky Fork middle schools, and LaVergne, Smyrna and Holloway high schools — and Johnson hopes to distribute the rest before Christmas.
Johnson received an unsolicited email Oct. 5 during Fall Break. A few days later, she had a Zoom meeting with Jamie Ellis. The two bonded and, eventually, cried over their shared desire to be service to their communities, especially when it comes to needy families and especially children.
“I knew the name of the organization,” Johnson said, “but I never worked with them. I was familiar, vaguely familiar. “They’re amazing. I will go out of my way to support them”
Soles4Souls not only donated 600 pairs of shoes, but they also dropped off 1,000 pairs of socks. That said, Johnson was touched by the compassion she felt from everyone associated with the nonprofit.
“What can we do better to make it better for you?,” Johnson was asked.
She added, “It’s amazing they truly just want to help. They don’t want to make anything harder. They just want to help.
In past years, Barfield Elementary has held a shoe drive and donated their collections to Soles4Souls, but the organization had never been able to partner with Rutherford County Schools for a giveaway.
Following an initial email, Johnson connected with Ellis and told her all about the ATLAS program and how it serves the community.
The shoes, which were donated to Soles4Souls were donated from Foot Locker, ranged in size from toddler to 15 and included brands ranging from Nike to Adidas along with Puma and K Swiss.
“A lot of our kids have never had that before and we’re going to be able to do it,” said Johnson, who concluded by praising the timing of the donation. “They will not be wearing sandals in 20-degree weather.”