BANGOR — Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, the “My New Shoes” initiative at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor found a way to help hundreds of area children and families in need.

Established 12 years ago, each fall, “My New Shoes” invites parishioners at the parish (St. John Church, Bangor; St. Mary Church, Bangor; St. Joseph Church, Brewer; St. Teresa Church, Brewer; St. Matthew Church, Hampden; St. Gabriel Church, Winterport) to purchase socks and sneakers for students in need at local elementary and middle schools.

Thanks to the generosity of the parishioners, the program has grown with each passing year, but in the pandemic, organizers weren’t sure how or if the initiative could be successful this year.

“It was incredible. This year, we collected over 900 pairs of new socks, over 300 pairs of new sneakers and boots, and cash donations in excess of $1,200,” said Susan Snow, a longtime parishioner at St. Mary Church who launched “My New Shoes” at the parish in 2009. “God bless the generous donors. Their generosity has helped so many children.”

Shaw started the program after a friend told her the story of a teacher who had bought sneakers for a student after seeing the soles of his shoes flapping in the rain as he walked. She also remembered that her aunt had once told her about a parish in Colorado that had a store which provided shoes.

“I thought, ‘Gee, why can’t we do something similar, but not a store, more of a supplying to all of the students at our parish.’”

Once the donations are collected, volunteers connect with representatives from area elementary and middle schools to assess the need.

“It’s huge for kids to have a pair of shoes on their feet that looks like those of the kids beside them,” said Jim Russell, a volunteer. “It gives that kid an opportunity to look like his peers, and that is huge for kids.”

While “My New Shoes” originally only served schools in Bangor and Brewer, the success of the program has allowed for expansion as sneakers now go to students in Baileyville, Carmel, Eddington, Glenburn, Hampden, Hermon, Holden, Indian Island, Kingman, Levant, Old Town, Orrington, and Winterport.

Joel Bradgon, the physical education teacher at Downeast School in Bangor, has seen the difference the program makes.

“The students are very excited. They’ll come in and maybe they’re a size 2, and I might have three or four pairs in that size, and they get to pick which one they like the best. They particularly like the shoes that light up,” he said. “The need is out there, and it’s not isolated to just one town or one community. They’re very grateful.”

“This is just dear to my heart,” said Shaw. “I usually get all teared up about it because I just think that we don’t realize what it does to a child to have something they usually don’t get.”