The closure of Our Lady of Providence Catholic Church in Brownstown earlier this year left parishioners seeking a new church to attend.
Upon hearing the news, Becky Wilson and her daughter, Becca Hattabaugh, both members of the church, wondered about the future of their annual Warm Hearts Warm Toes project, which provides new shoes and socks to local schoolchildren.
They wondered if funding still would come from St. Vincent de Paul Society, an international Catholic organization that helps less-fortunate people with a variety of services, and if community members would be able to donate.
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Fortunately, with St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Seymour still being connected to St. Vincent de Paul Society, the shoe and sock drive was able to continue.
“We were just lucky that God was there for us,” Wilson said.
“Whatever the need is, he provides,” Hattabaugh said. “I was thankful just because of the need and to stay a part of the community and help. I didn’t want it to end.”
This year, 119 Brownstown students — 105 at the elementary and 14 at the middle school — received a new pair of shoes and socks. That’s an increase from 95 in 2015.
In the five years of the project, more than 400 new pairs of shoes and socks have been distributed.
“It seems like every year, it increases a little bit more,” Hattabaugh said of the number of students benefiting from the drive.
That’s because the cost of life’s necessities continues to increase, she said.
“It’s not maybe a priority on people’s lists,” Hattabaugh said of shoes and socks. “Food definitely needs to come first, but (other) necessities, people don’t look at that.”
Each year, Wilson and Hattabaugh work with school counselors and teachers to identify students who can benefit from Warm Hearts Warm Toes. They then begin collecting donations so they can shop for the shoes and socks.
The past couple of years, Wilson said she has spent $1,500. This year, since the number of shoes increased, she hunted for bargains.
Wilson said it took a couple of weeks to visit several stores in the area with Hattabaugh and a friend to buy the shoes and socks. They also bought sweatpants for the school to have.
They recently delivered the items to Brownstown Elementary School so counselor Jill Miller could distribute them to the children.
The day before the delivery, Miller said she was fixing the shoe of a student who would be receiving a new pair. Other students also had asked her about getting new shoes.
“It is very appreciated by us here, by the students, by the parents,” Miller said. “There’s just not enough thank-yous really to go around for it.”
Warm Hearts Warm Toes began in 2012 when 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.
A gift tree was set up one year to provide toys for children at Christmas, but Hattabaugh knew they needed necessities, too.
That’s when she started Warm Hearts Warm Toes with the help of her family and some church members.
In the first year, the project provided shoes and socks for about 25 Brownstown students. The project also has helped students in Crothersville and Medora in the past, and this was the second year for some Seymour students to receive shoes and socks.
Now that Our Lady of Providence no longer is used for weekly services, Wilson said she usually attends St. Ambrose but occasionally goes to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Hayden. Hattabaugh attends St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Bedford.
While the shoes and socks have been distributed to students in Brownstown and Seymour, people can still donate money to the project.
“We have to continue doing it as long as we can despite our church being closed,” Hattabaugh said. “We’re blessed with so much that a little bit of time is all it takes. It’s humbling. It’s heartwarming. It’s giving back.”
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.