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Needy kids get shoes, play ball with Panthers

The kids getting feet washed and fitted for shoes. Click on picture to see more photos from the day's event. hspace=4
The kids getting feet washed and fitted for shoes. Click on picture to see more photos from the day's event. hspace=4

A Charlotte-based humanitarian agency that specializes in outfitting poor children around the world with new shoes, has set its sights closer to home. Samaritan's Feet is putting shoes on poor children in the Carolinas. WFAE's Simone Orendain went to a community service event hosted by the Carolina Panthers where some Charlotte children got brand new shoes. One hundred thirty kids take to the field on the Carolina Panthers practice grounds. They stream in receiving high-fives from a handful of players, the TopCat cheerleaders, a couple dozen non-profit volunteers and Panthers staff who scream, "Woohoo!" "The children that are joining us today really come from some low income neighborhoods," says Riley Fields, the Panthers community relations director. "They face challenges everyday that I think it's really hard for folks to even imagine. So one of the things we're excited about today is their day is going to be experiential for them, motivational and we hope inspirational. It's going to be uplifting." Fields says it's all part of the NFL's annual Hometown Huddle that takes place on the same day in October. Football teams across the country work with United Way agencies to motivate kids to be active. Here in Charlotte, some Panthers take the children through a series of obstacle courses and ball-throwing exercises for about an hour and a half. This year, Fields wanted to add a little extra. "It seemed like a perfect opportunity to give kids the message about the importance of physical activity but also give them the tools to do it. How excited do kids get when they get a new pair of shoes?" he says. Fields contacted Charlotte-based Samaritan's Feet. The Christian humanitarian agency that specializes in delivering new shoes and a Christian message to impoverished children around the world. Samaritan's Feet President Emmanuel Ohonme thought the event fit well with a new project specifically targeting the Carolinas. "The tough economic times really allowed us to look inward," he explains. "We've been talking to people in our community that we live and serve in and found out that parents are struggling between buying groceries and putting shoes on their kids' feet so they can go to school or play sports." Ohonme says some of those people used to be donors. He says with unemployment rising, he's seeing more cases of kids needing shoes. And he says, while locally children may have shoes, those might be too tight to play in or too big because they're hand-me-downs. He says, "We see kids in our public schools- you know we were in Greensboro a couple of weeks ago and we saw two to three kids who actually didn't have shoes. I never thought I'd see that in America!" Getting a pair of shoes from Samaritan's Feet means you'll also get prayers and you'll get your feet washed. In the Bible, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and this action was repeated among his followers. At the practice field, a foot-washing and fitting station is set up on the sidelines. Ohonme puts nine-year old Deresha Drummer in a pair of rubber shoes with a small hounds-tooth design highlighted with pink trim. "Wanda, look at my shoes!" exclaims the little girl. Ohonme gives Deresha a hug once her shoes are on her feet. Afterward, I ask what the experience was like. "Uhm, I felt things," she says. "My feet were vibrating with things that I felt through my heart." "Like what?" "Like uhm spirit!... Then he prayed for me and I said 'Thank you.'" With that, Deresha dashes to the field to play with her favorite football team, the Panthers. It happens to be her birthday and Ohonme is touched that he put a smile on her face.