In the four years of the Warm Hearts Warm Toes project, Brownstown Elementary School counselor Jill Miller has helped identify students who need a new pair of shoes.
That has resulted in more than 300 pairs of shoes and socks going to students in the community.
One time, a family appreciated the help but chose not to take a pair of shoes. Another family initially resisted but then decided to accept the shoes.
“I wouldn’t give up, so finally, they were like, ‘Sure,'” Miller said. “I was like, ‘Let me take that stress off.'”
Miller said she realizes the importance of the project.
“Students can’t learn if their needs are not met,” she said. “Having a new pair of shoes that belongs to them, hasn’t belonged to someone else before, makes a huge difference for them. Just that feeling inside that someone cares, someone wants to help out, something they don’t have to think about — my sole is flopping, and my feet are going to get wet because now it’s raining and it’s cold — they have some new shoes.”
The project began in 2012 when Becca Hattabaugh was serving as a substitute teacher at Brownstown Elementary School and saw students wearing flip-flops in the winter.
She realized everyone needs warm shoes and socks, but because of the economy, it’s not always easy for parents to provide those necessities.
Hattabaugh attends Our Lady of Providence Catholic Church in Brownstown, which participates in fundraising for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, an international Catholic organization that helps less-fortunate people with a variety of services.
A gift tree was set up one year to provide toys for children at Christmas, but Hattabaugh knew they need necessities, too.
That’s when she started Warm Hearts Warm Toes with the help of her mother, Becky Wilson, and daughter, Brooke Hattabaugh. Fellow church member Maureen Pesta also has helped with the project; and since Brooke Hattabaugh is off to college, her brother, Brayton Hattabaugh, helped this year.
“There are some charities that do a coat drive, and we just thought shoes are needed,” Becca Hattabaugh said. “They wear out fast, and children use them.”
In the first year, the project provided shoes and socks for about 25 Brownstown students. This year, that reached a high of 95 and included middle school students.
In past years, the project also has helped students in Crothersville and Medora. About 25 students in Crothersville received a new pair of shoes and two new pairs of socks this year. And with the help of a $1,500 grant from Catholic Relief Services, the project was expanded to Seymour with 25 students at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School and 40 at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School receiving new shoes and socks.
Also new this year was using money to provide some sweatpants to Brownstown Elementary. Wilson learned teachers had been using their own money to buy sweatpants when kids needed them at school.
“Why should they have to take their own money and buy when we are capable of doing it?” Wilson said.
“Our teachers have so much responsibility taking care of our children that it is just nice to be able to help with the small things,” Becca Hattabaugh added.
Each year of the project, organizers have collected monetary donations from the two local Catholic churches, Our Lady of Providence in Brownstown and St. Ambrose in Seymour, with assistance from the local chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Organizers then ask school officials to identify students who need new shoes and obtain sizes.
“What really helps is us being able to pinpoint who needs it,” Pesta said. “We don’t know how to reach those people, but the schools have the information about the kids. This is a really good way to find out who needs help and get it done.”
The Hattabaughs and Wilson then go out and buy the shoes and socks.
“We start out with all of the money, but if anybody is willing to donate new shoes, then we will take those, too,” Becca Hattabaugh said. “We prefer to get new (shoes) because they will last a little longer.”
They then deliver shoes and socks to the schools, which distribute them to the kids. Miller said she sends a card home with the children so their parents know who provided the shoes and socks.
“We don’t want anybody to feel bad because they have them,” Becca Hattabaugh said. “It’s just that we want them to have them.”
Organizers said it was nice to help Seymour students this year. St. Ambrose parishioners also work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and they provided underwear and pants to children along with the shoes and socks.
“We’re so small in Brownstown that there are a lot of things that we really can’t do by ourselves,” Pesta said. “And there are things that the Seymour church doesn’t have the outreach to the rural areas, so ideally, there would be more things that we do together.”
While the shoes and socks have been distributed to students in Brownstown, Crothersville and Seymour, people can still donate money to the project.
“If (school officials) find somebody else that needs more shoes, we’re willing to go do it,” Becca Hattabaugh said.
She said it makes them feel good to help, and they are grateful for people’s generosity in donating to the cause.
“Children touch everyone’s hearts, and they also represent our future,” she said. “Charity has a vision of kindness, and a simple awareness that supporting our local schools not only helps our children but our teachers, as well. Because we are blessed, why not bless someone else?”
St. Vincent de Paul Society is an international Catholic organization that helps the poor.
The Jackson County chapter offers a help line where people can receive information to help them with food and utilities. It also helps with the Warm Hearts Warm Toes project that provides new shoes and socks for local children.
For information, call 812-524-8566.