Phyllis Young Nichols, center, receives donation from the ARCONIC Foundation to help with project. Photo submitted

By Vivian Shipe

Children and their parents line the entrance and side streets of Caswell Park for over two blocks, long before the event begins.

KNOXVILLE, TN — As she looked out over the crowd of over 6,000 Knoxville Area Urban Leagues, President/CEO Phyllis Young Nichols joyfully remarked that it was the largest back-to-school effort by the organization in the 20 years since they started giving children school shoes.

The Knoxville Area Urban League began in Knoxville in 1968. It is a civil rights, economic development and social service organization and is a member of the National Urban League, the oldest community-based movement in the United States, devoted to empowering African Americans. 

Phyllis Young Nichols, president/CEO
of the Knoxville Area Urban League

Stretching across the vast entrance way to Caswell Park in East Knoxville and stretching down the road for almost two city blocks were excited parents and their children, there to check in and receive an armband that would direct them to the table holding one of the two most precious items being given out: a box with their name on a pair of brand-new shoes. They also would then receive a brand-new backpack stuffed full of school supplies.

Twenty years of free shoes and filled backpacks
to thousands of Knoxville’s children in need of
school supplies. Photos by Vivian Shipe

Planning for such a massive, organized event is ongoing, beginning almost the next day after each event. The Urban League process is down to a science after two decades. The process begins with people donating or sponsoring a pair of shoes to be given at the event. Next comes the registration by the parents, finally the day comes, and the massive gathering of the shoes begins, pickup and inventory, lovingly and painstakingly labeling each box. On shoe day children check in and receive a wrist band that directs them to the table holding those precious new shoes.

Company volunteers Robert and Dante with College H.U.N.K.S. Movers delivered over 1200 pairs of shoes and 2000 back packs to the event site.

This is the 20th year of the giveaway to the community by the KAUL. The children who had preregistered to receive the 1200 pairs of shoes were not the only ones being blessed by the community, as thousands of others who attended were able to receive school supplies, backpacks and other items from over 30 organizations that partnered with the Urban League to make this annual day happen.

For three hours there was music, fun, laughter and great joy in the faces of parents and their children ages 5 to 12. Children in the most need heading to school on Monday morning; had new shoes and a backpack full of school needs.

Truly ready to put their best foot forward. Community Matters.