WEIR — Shoeboxes filled with brightly colored, brand new pairs of tennis shoes were handed out in each classroom at Weir Elementary School Thursday afternoon, with children exclaiming, "Awesome!" or "Thank you" as they saw their new kicks.
The shoes were purchased and delivered by Wayne and Bette Kennedy, who have lived in Branson for several decades, but have family roots in Weir.
"The emphasis is not on us," said Wyane, a 1955 graduate of Weir High School. "The emphasis is what other people can do to help."
The Kennedys said they first thought about the idea when they heard of a similar situation closer to home.
"In Branson, east of Branson is a small, rural area, and they did that over there about two or three years ago," Wayne said. "My wife said, 'We need to do that for Weir.'"
The couple and their children and grandchildren began shopping for shoes for the approximately 120 children in the school.
"We called and got their sizes, and today will be delivery," Bette said. "This has been a family adventure. Our grandkids and our kids - we've all shopped and tried to pick out different colors for the different grades."
Thursday morning, they loaded up two trucks full of shoes and drove from Branson to Weir.
"We're here to distribute shoes to kids," Wayne said.
"We just hope they'll be excited about it, and for the ones who really could use the shoes, we hope they'll appreciate them." Bette said.
Wayne said this is a way to give back some of the many blessings they have.
"The Lord's been very, very good to us," he said, adding that he has taught mathematics at the College of the Ozarks and that the couple has had plenty of blessings in that time. "We probably had $200 in our pockets when we went to Branson. We did very well there."
"We've tried to help in so many ways," Wayne continued, adding that they have helped in their churches and in other places.
They contacted Weir Elementary Principal Tammie Hall, who estimated that 60-65 percent of the students at the school fall within the thresholds for free and reduced lunches, and she and the school staff helped coordinate the effort.
"We sent a letter out to the parents that we had a family who wanted to donate each child a pair of shoes," Hall said.
Parents were asked to send information to the school on the child's name, gender and shoe size.
"All they got on their end was the gender and the sizes," Hall said of the information that was passed along.
Page 2 of 2 - With that information in hand, the Kennedy family got really excited about the project.
"One day I got off practice and went down to Grandma and Grandpa's house, and she was unloading a bunch of shoes from the van," said Kyle Kennedy, who is a grandson of Wayne and Bette and helped deliver shoes Thursday.
Shelby Kennedy, a granddaughter of Wayne and Bette, said she helped with the shopping and really enjoyed the project.
"Mainly helping Grandma to buy shoes," she said of her role. "Her upstairs was completely full of shoes."
"I think we're both really, really excited," Shelby said of the distribution Thursday. "It's almost like a Christmas morning thing."
"I know it means a lot to my grandparents," Kyle said.
"We're very, very humbled by it," Wayne said.
He added that it was even better with the entire family coming on board.
"It's a family thing," Wayne said. "I think it's unusual that we're all in agreement that we all wanted to do this."
The distribution began with kindergarteners, and continued throughout the school during the afternoon hours.
"We are absolutely overwhelmed with the generosity of the Kennedy family," Hall said as she watched the family pass out shoes and help the students try them on.
"It's incredible," Wayne said while watching the children's faces light up.
Wayne and Bette said it was their honor to give away shoes, and they challenged others to consider how they can help out in other ways and other places.