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Christmas Shoe Tree

Written on December 19th, 2016

“Homelessness is not just about not having a building with four walls around you, that keeps you warm in the winter,” shared Tavia, a grade five student at John Knox Christian School in Brampton. “It’s also about not having the things that we all love about our homes—the safety, the security of being with people who love us, the space that is ‘ours’ and that we have a sense of belonging in, and the provision that we know we will find there. That’s what we’ve been learning about this year in our class, and that’s what we want people to think about when they watch our Christmas play this week.”

Each year, the grade five class at JKCS is in charge of choosing and performing the Christmas play for the Brampton community. This year, the class chose to tie the play in with some of the things that they’ve been learning about, and to partner their performance with a Christmas Shoe Drive.

“Our play is called The Christmas Shoe Tree, and it’s actually about the shoe drive. It tells the story of the Loggins family, who go to a Christmas tree farm where they sell Christmas trees and collect shoes to donate to needy people,” shared Hannah. “When the kids in the play go to the farm, they all really learn something. I think that the people who are watching the play will also learn about the things that we’ve been learning about this year in our class—about how it feels to not have the things that you need, and how it feels to receive.”

“It’s two things,” added Allie. “It lets people who come to the play have a chance to give to others, but then they also watch the play and hear what it’s like for those who will be receiving their gift. I love that!”

The class, along with their teacher Jonathan Fernhout, partnered together with an organization called Soles4Souls, a non-profit global social enterprise committed to fighting poverty through the collection and distribution of shoes and clothing. “Initially, we had hoped to do a coat drive during the Christmas play,” shared Mr. Fernhout. “However, we heard about this play called The Christmas Shoe Tree, and it came with a challenge to the kids and the community to impact the world, one shoe and one soul at a time. We thought it would be a great way to engage the students and the community in service to others.”

For over a month now, students in the grade five class have been busy preparing for their two performances this week—one a matinee and the other an evening performance—by making posters to advertise the event, creating a slideshow to present to each class in the school to explain the intention of their shoe drive, creating costumes, painting props, and practicing lines.

“All of the activities that we’ve been doing, leading up to this event, have been geared to help students become engaged in their community,” shared their teacher, Mr. Fernhout. We ‘ve been working together to discover a deeper understanding of the question, “What is a home?”, and how a home can impact various facets of their lives.”

These questions were approached across the curriculum in the grade five classroom this fall. The unit began with a trip to Crawford Lake, where students learned about some of the first homes built in Canada by the First Nations, and explored items inside the longhouses.  The hike also provided an opportunity to explore the culture of the people who lived there long ago. In Literature, the students studied a novel that touched on the theme of homelessness, and focused on physical beings, relationships, and the aesthetics of a home. In November, they piggy-backed off the novel study by taking part in the Meaning of Home writing contest—a Canada wide contest sponsored by Genworth that helps raise awareness and money for Habitat for Humanity. Each student wrote an original poem or essay and submitted it to the contest, raising ten dollars per entry for the Habitat for Humanity in their region.

Once the Christmas play is over, the class is looking forward to visits from a local architect, as they plan to continue their studies on homes by looking at how to design an energy efficient home, and how to track their own ecological footprint.

“Each of the areas that we’ve touched upon in this project-based learning unit has been intended to help students to become more compassionate Kingdom workers in their own communities,” shared Mr. Fernhout, “and not just here, but around the globe.”

“I was surprised to learn how many people don’t have homes,” shared Hannah. “We think that everyone must have a home and a family. My family took a trip and visited a shelter, and I couldn’t believe how many people stayed there and didn’t have a home. It made me want to help even more!”

Along with the grade five class, the rest of the students at JCKS will also be involved in the scheduled performances on Thursday. The primary students have learned songs and will be a part of the play’s supporting choir, and the senior students will be accompanying the singing with their band instruments.

“There’s a high level of excitement in the building as we head into the week before Christmas,” shared vice-principal Christine Soultanidis. “We’ve put out the invitation to parents, grandparents, extended families, potential new families in the community, and in the church bulletins of all the local area churches, hoping to fill this place with those who might contribute to the shoe drive, and hear the important message that students have been working so hard to prepare for sharing.”

“Doing the play is a lot of work—you have to devote your recesses and free time to making sure you’re prepared to give a good performance,” shared Tavia. “The play is in a few days … and I think we’re really ready!”

Once the performances are over, and the shoes have been collected, a few of the students will be helping to drop them off at a local distributor for Soles4Souls, to be distributed by those who need them this Christmas. “I can’t wait to see our moms and dads and grandpas and grandmas coming in the door with extra shoes in their hands,” shared Ciaran. His brother Benjamin agreed. “I hope there are so many shoes in the front lobby that people can’t even get back out through the door!”

“Ultimately, the play is spreading the message of how a simple act like giving a pair of shoes can impact the world in a positive way, and spread the gospel,” shared Mr. Fernhout. “As the character Yule says in the play, ‘I just feel like the most important thing that I can do in my life, in my work, in everything, is to let my feet do what God made ‘em to do … to walk … and to tell everybody I see about Jesus and His love.’”