Shoes are a basic necessity that most of us take for granted, but South Paducah Kiwanis member Tom Emerson knows from experience that not every child in Paducah has adequate footwear. That knowledge that has kept him devoted to giving away shoes for twenty-six years.
The Kiwanis club began the Christmas shoe give away in 1980 after Paducah Public schools assistant superintendent Richard Brown saw students in schools who didn’t have good shoes. Emerson began working with the program in 1984.
“We had taken some shoes over to Northside Head Start,” Emerson recalls. “It was a cold winter day. There was a little girl who came out with open toed sandals and no socks. We looked for a pair of shoes to give her, but we didn’t have a pair that fit. The little girl just said ‘That’s all right’. We could tell by the way she said it that this was something that had happened to her many times before. So we found the social worker and told her to spend whatever money she needed to spend to get shoes for this little girl.”
Emerson said that up until that point the Kiwanis bought different sizes of shoes and brought them to the schools, but after that they began to work with the schools to identify students who needed shoes to ensure that they bought the right sizes. Emerson estimates that the club has spent sixty thousand dollars on shoes over the past thirty years for Paducah and McCracken Head Start students. The project is funded through proceeds from the McCracken County Fair, which the Kiwanis Club sponsors, and the sale of funnel cakes at Bar-B-Que on the River.
Emerson says the mission of the Kiwanis is what keeps the shoe give away going strong.
“We do this because that’s what our organization is all about- helping kids.”