Numerous tables were filled with colorful shoes, small and large, on Saturday at Salem Avenue Baptist Church's multipurpose room. They were tried on and taken home just in time for the start of a new school year. It was the church's annual back-to-school shoe give away.

Numerous tables were filled with colorful shoes, small and large, on Saturday at Salem Avenue Baptist Church's multipurpose room. They were tried on and taken home just in time for the start of a new school year.  It was the church's annual back-to-school shoe give away.
For more than 20 years, the church has been holding the event, according to organizer Missy Sorrell.

“When we started, the idea was to fill a specific need in the community,” she said. “There were groups that were giving out clothes and food, but no one was giving out nice shoes. There's nothing like a good pair of fitting shoes especially for growing kids.”
The church has a weekly shoe closet that is open to the public on Wednesdays. Saturday's event was geared to those in need for the upcoming school year.

Sorrell estimated that the church gave out roughly 200 pairs of shoes on Saturday. These included pink sandals for infants to a size 13 pair of boots for men.  Children shoes were given away in the morning, and adults could take home a pair in the afternoon. Around 20  volunteers helped shoppers find the right size and fit of shoe.

Among those who were anxiously trying on sneakers was nine-year-old Vinnie Espisito. He will walk into his fourth-grade classroom in two weeks with a gray pair of tennis shoes complete with black laces.
“They feel great,” he said with a smile.

His family moved here recently from Lake of the Ozarks and were in need of some back-to-school help with clothing.

According to Sorrell, that's the way it should work.

“Every kid leaves with a pair of shoes, or if we don't have what they need here today, we will personally make sure they have a pair for them before school starts,” she noted. “And everyone will leave with socks as well.”

She added that almost all of the shoes are donated. A handful of volunteers work diligently  to clean them up and make them shine. If a pair arrives too worn out, they are donated to the Community Partnership which can make use of the soles.

“Nothing is thrown away,” said Sorrell. “We put it all to good use.”
Longtime church member Shirley Dew knows the value of a good pair of shoes.

“I grew up poor and we had to make things last,” said the St. Louis native. “We had a pair of shoes for school and a dress pair for Sunday church.”

She is one of the volunteers applying that wisdom, by cleaning up donated shoes.

Depending on what type of shoe it is, suede, canvas, fabric or leather, Dew gives it a good scrubbing, wipe down and sometimes a run through the washing machine.

“I use regular Lysol wipes on the inside and on the outside. If they cannot be cleaned, I dye them a different color,” she added. “I've done hundreds of pairs of shoes this way over the years.”

The annual shoe giveaway is one of a number of  ministries at Salem Avenue Baptist Church. Other outreaches include supporting foreign missionaries around the globe, a food pantry, elderly services and numerous faith-formation opportunities for children and adults.