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Michelle Bearden

Bearden: Brandon girl’s birthday wish helps others

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Published:   |   Updated: November 24, 2013 at 08:36 AM

Emma Bodie saw the television commercial for needy children, shoeless and dressed in rags, and her heart broke.

Her birthday was just days away, so she announced that she didn’t want any gifts, and instead only wanted shoes to give to the poor.

“I was so proud of her for being so thoughtful,” says her mother, Amanda. “But then anxiety set in. I didn’t know how we could pull it off.”

Did I mention this was just days before Emma’s 6th birthday?

When I was that age, all I could think about were the piles of wrapped presents and cake awaiting me on my special day. Were Mom and Dad going to come through with that horse-and-cowgirl play set? I certainly wasn’t the least bit concerned about the woes of the world.

Emma and her mother could not pull off the youngster’s request in such a short window of time. But they put the plan into action in September, after working with their church, Hyde Park United Methodist in Tampa, to identify a worthy recipient. It was decided they would collect gently used shoes for a congregation mission team that was heading to Nicaragua in late October.

It’s the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, surpassed only by Haiti. Raw sewage trickles onto the streets and sometimes into the water system. Indoor plumbing and concrete floors are luxuries.

The Brandon homeschooler gave her effort a name: Emma’s Angel Feet Ministry. And off she went, with a little red wagon to pick up donations from neighbors, the homeschooling community, church members and family friends.

Who could resist such a determined little girl, blond-haired and blue-eyed, with such a big heart? In less than two months, Emma collected 137 pairs of mostly children’s shoes.

They had only a few restrictions. No Crocs, no flip-flips and no heels higher than an inch. When the time came to package the shoes, Emma and her mother worked past midnight, cleaning them and putting each pair in a plastic bag with a note in English and Spanish: “Follow me in the path that leads to life.”

Those words, by the way, were Emma’s words.

“She’s always seemed older and wiser than her years,” her mother says. “When she was about 3, she told me she was going to grow up and be a famous doctor one day. She’s got so much compassion for people, whether she knows them or not.”

The church team delivered those shoes late last month to villagers served by the El Ayudante mission in Leon. Though Emma wanted to be there in person more than anything, she just wasn’t old enough.

So instead, she shut her eyes and imagined a child stepping into those shoes and getting a new lease on life.

“It makes me feel happy to give to people who don’t have anything,” she says. “Now they won’t get boo-boos on their feet.”

Vicki Walker, minister of missions and outreach at Hyde Park UMC, was there when the children got their unexpected gift. She witnessed the joy and excitement they felt, wishing she could bottle that up and distribute it on days when they felt forgotten.

“What Emma did was sweet, sincere and authentic. She has such a happy spirit,” Walker says. “She didn’t see her idea as an insurmountable plan. It was a compelling call to action, and she listened.”

We know how big a role a parent plays in a child’s life. So how much of this ministry does Amanda handle? She claims not much; this is Emma’s doing.

But the influence Emma got in her young life definitely did. Amanda says she and her husband, Matthew, an associate director of learning resources at St. Petersburg College in Clearwater, have a strong commitment to helping the less fortunate. They’ve served in the soup kitchen and bring peanut-butter sandwiches and bottled water to the homeless.

“We don’t have a lot,” says Amanda, who juggles her homeschooling teaching duties with a part-time job as a sales rep, “but we’ve always felt we had enough to share.”

That lesson isn’t lost on Emma and her 10-year-old brother, Nathan.

Emma is still pulling the wagon, now collecting used shoes (she’s added adults) for Metropolitan Ministries. She’s helped organize a service day with her American Heritage group to lend a hand with cleaning and packaging; she’s spoken before an Awana Club at a church about her project.

She already has 150 pairs. And I have no doubt she will surpass her goal of collecting 200 by year’s end. Who can resist a self-assured little girl who got a calling and acted on it?

Walker says Emma is making the world a better place “because she’s in it.” Her tenacity to follow through on an idea should be an inspiration to other kids.

mbearden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7613

EMMA’S ANGEL FEET MINISTRY

Donations of new and gently used shoes for children and adults will be taken at two public locations.

Hyde Park United Methodist Church, 500 W. Platt St., Tampa, accepts shoes from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For information, call (813) 253-5388

A one-day donation drop-off is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at The Crossing Church, 10130 Tuscany Ridge, Tampa.

For information, call (727) 463-3197 or email bearlybrit@gmail.com.

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