In keeping with the spirit of the Christmas season, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Woodruff is giving away hundreds of pairs of shoes to school-age children in Woodruff.
Pastor Michael Cooke got the idea when he visited an elementary school in Woodruff. Cooke, an insurance salesman, was there to talk with a teacher about life insurance.
As he was talking to the teacher, he noticed a boy arrive late to school with no coat, wearing clothes and shoes that were too big for him. He overheard the child say he didn't eat that morning, and before he had the chance to eat breakfast at school, a social worker arrived to take him to a doctor's appointment.
"My heart just broke," Cooke said.
Cooke asked the receptionist how he could help the boy. He told her he was willing to go out that day and buy him a coat, clothes and new shoes. Cooke said he left the school knowing his church needed to do something to help the Woodruff community.
"That's what this was born out of. I began to think about it and pray about it and ask God,"What can we do in our community? What can our church do to meet these needs" Cooke said. "We're calling this ministry Soles for Souls because we believe that when God created man, it says in Genesis that he breathed into his nostrils and became a living soul."
Cooke mentioned the idea at a Wednesday night prayer meeting and from there it took off. He said the church raised most of the money it needed in two Sundays.
From there, letters went to all school-age children in Woodruff, and anyone who sent back the letter with their size and information was guaranteed a brand-new pair of shoes. Cooke said it was really important that every child was included regardless of their parents financial means.
Between donations and shoes the church purchased, more than 900 children will receive a free pair of shoes and pairs of socks. Some children got their shoes Friday night and the remainder will get theirs on Saturday.
"We care about you from the top of your head to the soles of your feet," Cooke told parents, children and grandparents gathered at Cornerstone Friday night. "We love you, and this is why we're doing this."
Donna Pearson of Woodruff teared up as she talked about what a blessing Soles for Souls was to her. Her granddaughter and grandson both received new shoes. When she read the letter, Pearson said her first reaction was shock.
"I just couldn't believe a church was going to spend their money and their effort and their time to do something for the town of Woodruff, because nobody does anything like this for the kids in Woodruff," Pearson said. "When this church came together and pulled this off, it blessed me. I know God's here."
Latasha Cochran of Woodruff had brought her granddaughter to Cornerstone. She was surprised the church sent a letter to all the elementary school children in Woodruff because there are so many.
Cochran said she was grateful for the free shoes because it took some stress off her. Her daughter is away at college and she's helping raise her granddaughter, so Cornerstone's gesture was a blessing to her, Cochran said.
"It was one less thing to be worried about because kids always need shoes," Cochran said. "It was just a sacred sign that they would give shoes to the kids."