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story.lead_photo.caption Courtney North smiles as she helps one student try on a pair of shoes at last year’s Shoe Project. North’s mom, Peggy Clark, helped start The Shoe Project almost 30 years ago with her Sunday School class.

— Thirty years ago, Peggy Clark and her Sunday School class started The Shoe Project at Heber Springs United Methodist Church. So when her daughter, Courtney North, moved back to the area from Northwest Arkansas more than four years ago, North knew she wanted to help lead the project with Kerri Dudeck.

“I remembered my mom and her friends giving the kids shoes,” North said. “The thing that means the most to me is that the kids continued to get shoes all these years and what it means to them.”

The Shoe Project is a ministry through the church where members such as North and Dudeck purchase shoes from Walmart, then take them to Heber Springs Elementary School so the students can have a special fitting.

“Teachers will nominate kids who are in need or those they think need a new pair of shoes,” Dudeck said. “We usually do it in the fall and the spring. I’ve been leading it the past three or four years. It’s me and Courtney.

“I always love getting to see the kids’ faces and their excitement when getting a new pair of shoes. It has been a really good ministry.”

This year’s event will take place Monday. Dudeck said volunteers will split the classes between boys and girls to help them spread out for social distancing. Volunteers will wear masks, and kids 10 and older will have the option to wear a mask as well. She said there will also be hand sanitizer available to help maintain cleanliness.

“We won’t call as many kids at once, and we will spread out more instead of being so close together,” Dudeck said. “We sent out permission slips to the parents last week, and they put the kids’ shoe sizes; then we bought the shoes Oct. 6.”

Dudeck said she and the other volunteers usually fit about 150 students. North said if there are any shoes left over, they remain at the school to be picked up for any child in need.

“We weren’t able to do this last spring, so we decided to host it a little earlier this year — we usually do it around Thanksgiving,” Dudeck said. “If we have extra shoes, the counselor knows who would need them.

“We always have shoes left over, so we start grabbing some kids and let them pick out shoes. Some parents don’t always give a permission slip back.”

The process includes washing the students’ feet, if needed, and fitting each student with a fresh pair of socks and allowing them to pick out whichever pair of shoes they would like.

“They are just so excited and so appreciative,” Dudeck said. “It is a lot of fun and a blessing to be a part of it.”

Devin Thomas has been the school counselor at Heber Springs Elementary School for seven years. She said this is one of her favorite times of the school year.

“I think the biggest thing is watching these people love these children through washing their feet and listening to the volunteers’ excitement as they celebrate these children,” Thomas said. “The joys on these kids’ faces is beautiful.”

Thomas said The Shoe Project is a “continual act of grace and love every year. It is an extremely generous ministry.”

“It is such a great ministry,” Thomas said. “[The volunteers] are just that generous. Even if the number of students in need went up, they would still provide [them with shoes].”

Dudeck said The Shoe Project is an important ministry for the church, and even if there wasn’t enough money specifically donated for the ministry, the shoes would still be purchased.

“We usually have plenty of people who want to donate and a lot of volunteers who want to help,” she said.

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