Children sat attentive in rows of chairs with parents behind them as a college student washed their feet and exchanged kind words before putting a new sneaker on each foot.
More than 60 University of Jamestown students greeted area families that registered for the Samaritan’s Feet distribution day event Sunday at Harold Newman Arena. The UJ students collected 275 pairs of new shoes over the first semester and from direct donations and at a UJ basketball game.
“In retrospect it’s been a lot of work but it doesn’t seem like work, it really doesn’t,” said Mika Thorlakson, a UJ professor of kinesiology and program adviser.
The UJ students were moved by the idea of collecting and distributing shoes for kids, some of whom have never had a new pair, he said. Active and growing kids go through a lot of shoes which puts a burden on parents, he said.
The kids and parents were led to a feet washing station and the youth were fitted with new shoes. The kids were then invited to play games with UJ students on the arena floor.
Charles Eastman of Jamestown said he and his wife were grateful to have a new pair of shoes for their 9-year-old daughter. She goes through a lot of clothing, especially jackets and shoes, and any help is appreciated, he said.
“Anytime we can get some type of help it makes things a lot easier on us,” Eastman said.
Jeremy and Justina Jones said their 8-year-old twin boys are active and go through shoes fast.
“It’s great that they provide this help for children,” Justina said. “I just think it’s a great program.”
Denise Blomberg, regional operations director of the Samaritan’s Feet in Sioux Falls, S.D., said Jamestown has a culture of service and the servant leadership example is exemplified at the university. It’s a community that is aligned well with the organizational goal of giving out a million shoes this year, she said.
“This is a natural progression for us to start the Samaritan’s Feet Ambassadors chapter here,” Blomberg said. “This is the first of its kind and it can be replicated anywhere.”
Samaritan’s Feet was founded in 2003 by Manny Ohonme, who came to the University of North Dakota-Lake Region on a basketball scholarship and went on to earn a master’s degree. As a youth in Nigeria, the gift of his first pair of shoes from a missionary at age 9 changed his life.
The UJ Samaritan’s Feet Ambassadors is a first-of-its-kind model that may soon be used at other colleges and communities that form their own chapters, Blomberg said. The UJ students collected more than 200 pairs of shoes in 2018 but had not yet formed the Samaritan’s Feet Ambassadors chapter.
Sunday’s event was rescheduled from a weather-cancelled event on Jan. 26. When the UJ totals are known they will be added to the other events in 15 cities and 12 states when more than 9,000 pairs of shoes were given to children as part of the Martin Luther King National Day of Service Initiative, she said.
More than 6,500 pairs of shoes have been distributed at events in seven North Dakota cities since 2014, she said. More than 6.9 million shoes have been distributed in 41 states in that time.
Tommy Voss, a UJ senior in exercise science, is president of the Samaritan’s Feet UJ Ambassadors. He said it is the largest campus organization. The students embrace a program that does good and involves servitude, he said.
“I find that it’s very humbling to be part of something like this,” Voss said.
People come forward when they are in need and it isn’t taken lightly by the students, he said. This is a big responsibility but a fantastic opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, he said.
“These little kids are the future so it means a lot to me,” said Jack Talley, a sophomore pre-law student at UJ.
It’s important to help all kids in the community, he said. The bigger impact of doing something meaningful for a child is that the child in turn may remember this and do the same some day, he said.
Sydney Prussia, a sophomore elementary education student at UJ, said she volunteered as a way to do other things that relate to helping kids.
“This is just another reason to help more kids,” Prussia said.