Good Samaritans stepped up this week to give students at a Johnson City school some motivation after a tough year of learning during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Coca-Cola Consolidated and Samaritan's Feet handed out "hope totes" containing athletic shoes, socks, hygiene kits and letters of hope to every child at South Side Elementary School. Additionally, Food City provided backpacks full of non-perishable food for all of the school's approximately 350 students.

"We are excited to give those out today," South Side Principal Kaytee Jones said. "Our kids are thrilled, and we are very grateful to be selected for this opportunity."

Mike Combs, an engagement manager with Coca-Cola, said the company works with local business partners to give back to the community.

The company chose South Side Elementary because it's a Title 1 school, meaning it serves a large number of children from low-income families.

"We try to identify schools in the community that can use the need the most, and so we try to give back as much as possible," Combs said.

Combs said the company is giving away shoes in all of the 14 states where it has a presence. He estimated that they'll try to get to about 28 to 30 schools on a yearly basis. The event at South Side was also part of Samaritan’s Feet's annual Back to School campaign, which will serve more than 80 communities between July and October.

"It's very special," Combs said as kids raced around the playground in their new sneakers. "You just get their excitement and honesty. No one gives that better than a child, so it's really a blessing to give back to them and experience their joy."

News of the free shoes has been featured on the school's daily announcements for more than a week, and Jones said students have been stopping her in the hall to tell her how excited they are.

"I know they're going to be showing these off and remember this day for a long time," Jones said. "This is a great memory."

David Floyd covers Johnson City government, Johnson City schools and Ballad Health for the Johnson City Press. He grew up in East Tennessee and graduated from ETSU, where he was the executive editor of the school paper.