EAST MANATEE -- Helping children put their best foot forward is one intent of Soles to Little Souls, a program where Church Women United collected gift certificates, vouchers and money to purchase about 200 pairs of shoes for girls at Just for Girls Academy and 100 pairs for children at Turning Points homeless service center.
Coming together from 25 local churches, the Manatee affiliates of Church Women United, an international organization, chose this project when they heard of the need from one of their members.
"That individual expressed to one of our members that there are many children in the community who are in need of shoes. During the month of November we have a major outreach to migrant families for whom we provide clothing, shoes, all the things families need when they get started in this country," said president Sandra Holley, a member of Pathways Christian Fellowship.
Many of the parents of the students at Just for Girls, "really don't have an income right now. We are a free public charter school. We are tuition-free. Over half our uniforms are scholarshipped," said Principal Jennifer Rosenboom. "We don't want anyone to be judged on what they're wearing."
Third-grader Isabelle Vatelia said it was the first time an organization had made such a donation. "It's great!"
Accompanying the shoes at this first delivery were church women from Pathways Christian Fellowship, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and Faith United Church of Christ.
According to Joe Mercado, director of Operations of Turning Points who receive the donation there, his organization serves 2,000 homeless children a year.
Church Women United is "one of the most significant organizations I've every belonged to be
cause we have women from many faiths and races to come together for peace and justice," said state Vice President Mildred Barnes, a member of Faith United Church of Christ.
"It's a special bond among the women of Church Women United because we come together with a common goal, and that is to advocate for peace, to advocate for justice and to take care of the needs in our community," Holley said.
Each month from October to May the group gathers at a different church. The next project is the friendship day luncheon on May 3, celebrating the generational bonds among women at Westminster Manor, 1700 21st Ave. W., Bradenton.
They will be honoring Lorine Brown as Valiant Woman, a national award designated by the local group for outstanding service.
Brown, a member of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, "has surrendered, committed and dedicated herself to service," Holley said. "She is a lady who takes it upon herself to do outreach into the community. She has, over the years, done personal outreach and taken care of others."
That service also celebrates the Fellowship of the Least Coin, a worldwide movement based on the power of prayer and the willingness to set aside the lowest valued coin of a country each day and collect it the following May.
"Each time we drop a penny into the receptacle, we're praying for our sisters around the world," Holley said. "So we present our coins, and then those coins are then transferred to a national treasury that are dispersed."
Women from around the world collect these coins. "We can all give some money, but it's not particularly a money raiser. It is a prayer movement, that each time you put in a penny you offer a prayer for peace and reconciliation," Barnes said. "This was established by a woman from India. Church Women United is a worldwide organization."