NORFOLK, Va. (ODU Athletics)– COVID has changed so much about our lives, and that extends to organizations whose purpose is to help those who are less fortunate.

Two years ago, the Old Dominion basketball team partnered with Samaritan’s Feet on a Saturday morning at Norfolk’s Jacox Elementary School in an effort to outfit hundreds of kids with new shoes and socks.

For five hours players, staff, coaches and members of Trinity Church washed and dried the feet of 500 needy kids, and then placed a new pair of socks and shoes on every child.

I’ll never forget the smiles on the faces of those kids as they walked out with new shoes after having spent a few minutes with college basketball players.

The pandemic has ruled out such a face-to-face event since, but that doesn’t mean the ODU basketball isn’t still helping. On Thursday night, when the Monarchs face UTSA at Chartway Arena, ODU’s coaches will all be in bare feet, a symbolic gesture to bring awareness to the good work done by Samaritan’s Feet.

But this will be more than a symbolic evening. ODU coach Jeff Jones is urging fans to donate to the cause and put his shoulder to the wheel by kicking things off with a $5,000 donation.

ODU officials are hoping that fans, donors and local companies will match that $5,000 from individual donations.

It all goes to a good cause. Samaritan’s feet will put a “shoe locker” at Jacox, where counselors, nurses and other officials can provide shoes and socks, along with a note of encouragement, all wrapped up in a draw-string bag, for kids in need.

Click here to donate shoes to Jacox Elementary through Samaritan’s Feet

Samaritan’s Feet began the shoe lockers in 2021 in response to the pandemic, which shut down many face-to-face events.

“Our goal is that this shoe locker will last at Jacox throughout 2022,” said Will McCorry, the Dallas-based sports engagement manager for Samaritan’s Feet.

“The shoes will be available for the staff at Jacox to provide any child who needs shoes with a new pair. Our goal is to have this available 24/7, for 365 days.”

And that’s where fans come in. Jones’ donation will allow the shoe locker an allotment of 250 shoes, which may or may not be enough for the students at Jacox.

“This will be the first year where we’re doing more of an active fundraising effort,” Jones said.

Jones hooked up with Samaritan’s feet while coaching at American University. He was approached by an official from the organization and it seemed like a good idea to him.

“The more I got involved, the more and more I learned about the organization and about the important work they do,” he said.

“Whether it be for kids in poverty in the United States or throughout the world, the significance of footwear in terms of childrens’ health and well-being is huge.

“I just grew to appreciate and respect what the organization does. They are great people and they’re virtually all volunteers and they do so much good.”

Samaritan’s Feet is a Christian organization begun by Emmanuel Ohonme, a Nigerian who got his first pair of shoes at age nine when he won a raffle from a Christian organization.

He then went on to become a college basketball star and a success in the high-tech world in the United States. But he never forgot that first pair of shoes and formed Samaritan’s Feet, which has since provided nine million children worldwide with new shoes and socks.

His organization partners with churches, businesses and college athletic departments around the world. Kentucky coach John Calipari and former LSU coach Dale Brown are among hundreds of men’s and women’s basketball coaches who support Samaritan’s Feet.

As Jones said, most of the work is done by volunteers and that allows for more than 90 percent of all donations to go directly to distributing shoes to the needy.

Millions of poor children in third-world countries have no shoes and that leads to all kinds of health issues. Few kids in America lack shoes, but they sometimes have shoes they’ve outgrown or worn out shoes.

Will McCorry said the shoes do more than just promote good health.

“We know it also helps build self-esteem,” he said. “When you bless them with a necessity that we take for granted, it’s a very special thing.

“We’ve seen so much gratitude and a sense of unity that comes from the gift of a pair of shoes and socks.”

Jones said he’s seen that at every event in which his players presented shoes to children.

“To see the excitement in the little kids, the smiles on their faces, their big eyes, and then you see the gratitude from parents,:” he said. 

“he kids are excited and the parents are really appreciative because this is something they may not be able to afford.”

The Monarchs will play a role in getting shoes to the kids at Jacox. They will assemble the shoes and socks in bags and will also write notes of encouragement that will be delivered with the footwear.

Jones said he hopes that sooner than later his team can return to placing shoes on kids directly.

“The sense of pride I saw in our young men was fantastic,” he said. “They jumped in, they embraced the opportunity.

“Each time we’ve been able to do a shoe giveaway, it’s everything I hoped it would be. It’s touching a lot of peoples’ lives. It’s making a difference in their lives, whether it’s a child or parent or one of our guys volunteering.”