NORTH FORSYTH — Shoes are a basic necessity, yet many in Forsyth County would be without or with worn pairs if not for the efforts of a local congregation.
Mountain Lake Church in north Forsyth launched its Kicks for the Community campaign to collect and donate new shoes for homeless children in the county.
“We asked every family in the eight weeks leading up to Easter to buy a new pair of athletic shoes, not only for students, but sometimes their parents will go without shoes in lieu of their kids,” said Pastor Shawn Lovejoy. “It was a simple task for our church.”
He said the effort was a “great discipleship opportunity for our congregation, a great leadership opportunity, service opportunity. It just caught wave from there.”
This wasn’t a small project for just a few kids.
“Last year, we identified a little over 720 homeless students. This year, we’re at, as of [Wednesday] morning, 590, and I expect that number to be well over 600 by the end of the year,” said Jamie Rife, homeless education liaison for Forsyth County Schools.
According to federal standards of homelessness, that number counts only children enrolled in the school system, not siblings younger than kindergarten-age or beyond high school, and not parents.
“One of the biggest needs that we have is always shoes for our children,” Rife said. “So Mountain Lake jumped on that, and they have come together as a congregation. And I am so blessed.”
On Wednesday, they packed more than 615 pairs of shoes into cars to be delivered to the students in need.
Even if every family member suffering from homelessness in Forsyth receives a new pair of shoes, their needs stretch further.
Mountain Lake’s campaign ran in conjunction with an ongoing effort by Rife, school social workers and members of a nonprofit called Family Promise of Forsyth County to bring a workplace development and sustainability program to the county.
People sleeping outside on the streets are not the only ones who are considered homeless. The federal definition includes anyone who sleeps in a vehicle, at a campground or with non-immediate family members or friends, often on the floor or couch.
Currently, there is no shelter that allows an entire family to stay together. Kids often are split up, staying where they can. This can make it more difficult to get to school, Rife said.
Many of these parents either have jobs that just can’t meet the bills or have recently been laid off without enough savings to afford their own home.
Participants in the Family Promise program — up to 14 individuals — would rotate among 13 churches or faith-based congregations, sleeping in the church at night and going to school or a centralized day center during the day.
Parents would receive work force development training and financing advice. So far, five churches have signed up for the program.
For more information on Family Promise, contact Jim Leeds at firstname.lastname@example.org.