This year, they hope to raise the approximately $28,000 needed to match last year’s gift of 800 pairs of shoes.
This week, coordinators Bob McLester and Sue Stevenson recalled the late Charles White, who jumped headlong into raising money for children’s shoes each holiday season since the program began.
“I think Charlie never wanted the credit for it, but he was clearly the inspiration for this for years,” Stevenson said.
White passed away in October at the age of 66 after a bout with cancer.
“He was always a low-key type person, but every year he would get out there and talk to people and really make this happen for the children of Richmond County,” she said.
In White’s obituary, the family asked that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to the “New Shoes for Christmas” fund at Rockingham Presbyterian, “in honor of Mr. White’s giving spirit and selfless love for others.”
After the drive finished up last year, White commended the community for stepping up to meet the needs of its children.
“The people of this county have been very, very generous,” White said. “They’ve been generous even in tough times.”
White grew up in Cheraw but relocated to Rockingham, where he eventually owned Rockingham Paint and Glass, and held posts in civic and social organizations.
A blood drive was also held at the church in his honor in February.
The drive works with the Presbyterian church collecting donations from the community, then gives the money to the school system in the form of gift certificates at J.C. Penney’s and The Shoe Department in Rockingham.
School counselors and social workers determine which children are in the greatest need of the vouchers, and distribute them appropriately. The schools then take their students to one of the two stores to be fitted and receive their new shoes. The church doesn’t keep any of the money for administering the program.
“We want to continue what Charles has done with this program,” McLester said. “All you’ve got to do is go down to J.C. Penney’s or the Shoe Department and see the kids receive the shoes, and you’ll know that this is a worthwhile thing to do.”
While White was the leader of the drive, McLester said others in the class pitched in, and the drive would never be possible without donations from businesses, individuals and organizations in the community.
“Our church is a conduit for it, but this whole community is involved,” Stevenson explained. “It wouldn’t work if they didn’t donate to the cause.”
McLester recalled when the program began giving out about 200 pairs of shoes each year. Last year, the total number of shoes given away reached 800.
“This program has struck a cord in this community, and people have responded,” Stevenson said. “Part of that is because they know that everything they contribute goes to shoes - there’s no overhead. We’ve just had a great response over the years, but you still find a lot of people who don’t know anything about it.”
She said she hopes the economy won’t hurt the effort this year. Richmond County has double-digit unemployment.
“I think people are concerned, especially in this economy, about the children, and they’ve responded to that concern,” Stevenson said.
Shoe Department Manager Harriet Wallace stressed the importance of these Christmas shoes to the children who come to her store, and suggested the vouchers as a gift to those who are hard to shop for or already have enough stuff.
“You can give them in memory or honor of people,” Wallace said. “I know a lady here in town who has three daughters who don’t want for anything, so every year she buys three of these pairs of shoes. In turn, the Sunday school class will send out a Christmas card thanking them for the donation. That’s a wonderful idea because so often it’s more of a blessing to give than receive.”
Donations may be sent to New Shoes for Christmas, c/o First Presbyterian Church of Rockingham, 904 Fayetteville Road, Rockingham, NC 28379.
Staff Writer Hollie Nivens can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 19, or by e-mail at email@example.com