Volunteers provide new shoes to Donaldsonville Primary students

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

The scene in the cafeteria of Donaldsonville Primary School on Thursday, January 16 can be described most fittingly in smiles.

Not only were the children happy because many were having their feet washed and then supplied with a brand new pair of shoes and socks, but the volunteers, including the mayor and council, fireman, and sheriff's deputies joyfully served the city's youth.

Mayor Leroy Sullivan sat on one end of what looked like a factory line, where students filed in to have their feet washed and re-furnished with new athletic shoes. Councilman Brent Landry stood on one side of the isle to re-fill the buckets used for the wash with clean water.

"This is the holy water that is blessing the feet of all these young children," Landry said. "The story behind Samaritan's Feet is just incredible. Here we are millions of miles away from that original prayer to see his vision fulfilled."

Regional Director for Samaritan's Feet Graham Gibbs was on hand to discuss the global initiative that was taking place that day in Louisiana. He credited Tiffany St. Pierre and Sherry Denig of Volunteer Ascension for sponsoring and organizing the event.

"Two years ago Sherry and I did this event in Baton Rouge, and it was an honor and a blessing to bring it to Ascension Parish," Tiffany St. Pierre of Volunteer Ascension said. "I hope we can do it again each year."

"They contacted us to partner and wanted to bring that to this community," Gibbs said.

Samaritan's Feet is headquartered in North Carolina. Gibbs is actually based in Arkansas. Gibbs said he participates in Samaritan's Feet projects year-round all over the world. He said he did about 60 of these events and was away from home about 90 days in 2019.

"Mostly elementary schools, but we also serve adults," he said. "I was a corporate executive. I went on a mission trip to Burundi, Africa with this organization that has changed my life. Within two years I'm out of Corporate America doing this full-time. It's been a great journey for me. You can't get a better reward than seeing children's faces smile and the impact on the volunteers."

They planned to provide shoes to each child at DVPS, which Gibbs said he believed to be 479 kids.

Moreover, Jeff Henry and Juanita C. Pearley were volunteering at the event on behalf of the Rotary Club and the Donaldsonville Chamber of Commerce.

"It's a beautiful turnout," Henry said. "I love to see this, and I hope they continue to do it at least once a year because it makes it where it doesn't seem like one kid has more than the other when they all have the same thing."

Even local beauty pageant queens were on hand to volunteer, like Teen Miss Sunshine Arielle Francis.

"It makes me feel very happy that the town is giving them something that they need--shoes! It's putting a smile on my face to see them happy," Francis said.

Executive Director of Volunteer Ascension Sherry Denig said that for two years the organization looked for funding and grants to support the program.

"We submitted the grant to Capital Area United Way," Denig said. "It's totally funded. We needed about 90 volunteers. We put the word out, and here they are. This is Ascension Parish right here. This is what it looks like when you do a call out for volunteers."