Bobby J. Demott, 33
A common practice fifty years ago in the South was for children to walk to school. When winter came, many did not attend for lack of shoes. The newly formed Scottish Rite Bodies of Knoxville recognized this problem and determined to remedy it.
In 1960 Venerable Master John Crawford announced a "Christmas in September" program wherein 19 Christmas parties were held in September, one at each of the jurisdiction's Scottish Rite Clubs and one at the Knoxville Temple. Needy children were invited to come for the party where they were fitted for a new pair of shoes and socks. The call went out for $15,000 in contributions to the Mercy Fund* to underwrite the program. Throughout the jurisdiction, in 1960 and 1961 over 6,000 needy children were fitted with shoes and socks and given all the food they could eat.
The peak was reached in 1967 when 10,000 pairs were distributed in one year. The Chattanooga Scottish Rite Bodies were formed during 1968 and continued the program. The Knoxville Bodies now distribute about 3,000 pairs per year, a total of about 150,000 since the program began.
In 1970, the distribution of shoes was started on two Saturday mornings per month. The custom of a party was discontinued in 1974, and the practice now is that shoes are fitted on the 1st and 3rd Saturday mornings of each month during the regular school year. Children come to the Temple during this time, mostly in the fall months.
"Tickets" for shoes are delivered to the central school office which, in turn, notifies each school that these are available as needs arise. Parents of needy children secure the tickets from the school office and then bring their children with the tickets to the designated location for fitting. Each county in Tennessee has a Scottish Rite club that makes distribution in a similar manner in their area. Shoes are purchased direct from the manufacturer, warehoused in the Knoxville Temple, and distributed to the clubs as the need arises. The shoes are of sturdy quality and purchased at a very reasonable price.
The design of the shoes has been changed several times in order to keep up with contemporary styles and to avoid making the children self-conscious or objects of ridicule from their peers about their choice of footwear.
Each fall a letter is sent to the membership from the Chairman of the Mercy Fund soliciting funds in support of the program. Never have funds been insufficient to meet the needs of the program.
*The Mercy Fund, part of the Knoxville Scottish Rite Foundation, Inc., has 501(c)3 IRS classification, and contributions to the Fund are deductible on federal income tax.