More than 100 students received shoes when the Anson County school system and a local church teamed up with a Union County charity on March 16.
Children in kindergarten through sixth grade and their families were welcomed to the Rotary Planetarium and Science Center, where they were treated to a meal prepared by members of Deep Creek Baptist Church, with beverages donated by Coca Cola in Charlotte. The 107 students were then given new shoes provided by Sole2Soul and paid for by members of the church.
“We don’t ask for any proof of income,” John Fagala, co-founder of Sole2Soul, said. “(Superintendent Michael) Freeman had done such a great job working with principals and counselors, they had gotten the shoe sizes and if the kids were male or female and all that. So we had all that information going in.”
The event lasted about two hours, and it was packed with the meal, shoes and activities, Fagala said.
“We fed the kids and their parents,” Fagala said. “There were activities for them at the Planetarium, light shows and other stuff. Once they made their way through there, they came to see us. We wanted to make sure we had plenty of time with each one of them. A lot of people from Deep Creek were there to talk with the kids and ask about their families and talk to them about faith.”
The volunteers also washed the feet of the students.
In the Bible, there are multiple references to individuals washing the feet of others. John 13:1-17 tells about when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, despite the initial protest of disciple Simon Peter. Jesus told them, “If I then, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
It was important for Fagala and his volunteers to carry that ancient tradition over to their event.
“For us, if it was good enough for Jesus to do, it was good enough for us to do,” he said. “At its very core, washing somebody else’s feet is a very humbling experience. When you get down on that level, talking about faith and showing that you’re not too good to wash their feet, it’s an amazing experience.”
Fagala said he was pleased that two fifth-grade students committed themselves to Jesus during the event.
Michael Freeman, superintendent of the Anson County School District, said he was grateful for Fagala’s efforts and those of the church members. He also thanked Wendy Efird, director of the planetarium and science center, for providing activities for the children.
“We are looking forward to future projects such as this for our students,” he said via email. “The children beamed with excitement as they sported new socks and shoes at this event. A number of school system staff were here to encourage and support the students during the event.”
Fagala, of Monroe, first had the inspiration for Sole2Soul a few years ago, but didn’t act on it until this month, and the group has already given away almost 250 pairs of shoes.
He started it with his daughter, Kelli, an eleventh-grade student at Piedmont High School, after he first worked with Samaritan’s Feet.
“My daughter and I do it together,” he said. “She’s the one that gets up and talks to a lot of the groups and churches and that kind of stuff. I do some of the legwork, but she is the mouthpiece for Sole2Soul. It’s been our mission since 2014. I saw the need, she and I both, and tried to figure out how to go about meeting that need.”
It took awhile to get it off the ground. During that time, John served through Samaritan’s Feet, but it didn’t go quite as planned.
“We had our event at church and the kids didn’t come,” he said. “We expected 250 and got 50. Fast forward two years, and it was the exact same thing: we were supposed to get 275, and we got like 50. Both times, God spoke to me and said to take on the road. I pushed it into the background; I didn’t do it. Late last year, we saw kids in need of shoes, and I said, ‘Okay, it’s time to go.’ My daughter and I both said, ‘Okay, time to go.’ We both have felt very strongly about taking it on the road.”
In both of those events, children were expected to go to the church to receive their shoes, and John wondered if that was where the problem was.
“We had invited kids from particular schools to come and they didn’t,” he said. “They may have felt intimidated, we may not have had their trust, they may not have had transportation. Our goal is to go to them, their turf, whether it’s a school, sports camp, whatever, we don’t care. As long as kids are open to talking to us, we’ll go.”
That led Fagala and his daughter to bring their mission to Anson County, where they held their first official Sole2Soul event on March 16. Just two days later, they held another event in Union County.
“We knew that of all the counties that were close to us, Anson was probably the county with the most need,” John said. “So we reached out to Deep Creek, connecting the dots with (church deacon) Kevin (Tucker) and his relationship with church and county.”
He and Tucker had known each other for years, and the church was on board with the proposal. The church missions team had a fundraising breakfast and collected a love offering to come up with the funds for the event.
“There’s just some phenomenal people in the church,” John said. “Kevin is a lifelong friend of mine. I had never worked with them, and they just accepted me and my daughter as one of their own.”
The Fagalas buy shoes in bulk and at closeout sales in order to get the most shoes for their money. So far, they’ve provided 241 pairs between larger events and requests from churches in Anson and Union counties, and they have more planned.
Kelli Fagala came up with the idea to bring their mission to every county in the state. John Fagala said they plan to do it whether it takes the next five or 10 years.
They have another event planned during an Easter festival and egg hunt on April 22 in Monroe, and at Rock Rest Elementary School in Monroe on May 4. They hope to do an event in Richmond County soon.
Tucker said they plan to have similar shoe giveaways in Anson County two to four times a year.
The Fagalas even have plans to send shoes to West Virginia this summer. One church in Union County that does missions work in West Virginia needs 400 pairs of shoes to take in July.
John Fagala stressed that Kelli and his family are actively involved in Sole2Soul.
“I don’t want people to think this is John, and his kids are along for the ride, because it’s not,” he said. “The whole family goes, washing feet, every time. It does not matter to them, it’s very special. I’m very proud of them.”
Sole2Soul is not a 501(c)(3) nonprofit yet, but John submitted the paperwork and expects to have tax-exempt status in about six months.
He asked that anyone who wants to donate send money rather than purchase shoes, since he and Kelli can buy them much cheaper in bulk than most individuals will be able to buy them for at stores.
To donate, give the funds to Deep Creek Baptist Church or Harmony Community Church and designate Sole2Soul for a tax write-off. Donors can also contact John Fagala at 704-226-7737 or at email@example.com.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.