LEWISTON — Heather Emerson watched the pile of shoe boxes shrink even as she moved up in line at Kennedy Park Friday morning.
She hoped there'd be enough for her children by the time she reached the front.
"I have four kids here, and some of them start school on Monday," said Emerson, 24, of Birch Street in Lewiston. "It'd be really nice to get some decent shoes."
Emerson was one of the hundreds of downtown Lewiston residents to fill the center of Kennedy Park Friday hoping for free used shoes, donated by Lamey-Wellehan.
All six of the Maine Lamey-Wellehan stores have been collecting the used shoes to distribute to Mainers in need, according to owner Jim Wellehan. So far, the effort has distributed 6,000 shoes around Maine, including at Portland's Preble Street Shelter and the Good Shepherd Food-Bank.
"It's really depended on the generosity of our customers," Wellehan said. "If they had gently-used shoes they didn't need, they'd bring them in. And it's good because there is a need all over the state."
Wellehan said he has been storing the shoes in a Good Shepherd warehouse for some time, and he and partners were trying to come up with an efficient way to distribute them.
"We finally decided to just come in and open it up," he said.
Volunteers started handing out shoes at 9 a.m., but lines began forming at 7:30 a.m. Wellehan said organizers brought 2,500 pairs of shoes — mostly women's shoes, with some children's and men's shoes. At the beginning, each person was allowed to take two pairs of women's shoes, one pair of men's shoes and one pairs of children's shoes. Wellehan said that requirement eased up as the day wore on.
He said most of the children's shoes were gone within the first hour.
Friday's event was co-sponsored by SeniorsPlus, Healthy Androscoggin, Catholic Charities Maine, Salvation Army, Common Ties and the cities of Auburn and Lewiston. Reine Mynahan, Auburn's Community Development director, said she was already planning for next year.
"If we do this again, we're handing out numbers instead of letting everyone stand in line," Mynahan said. Mynahan said many of the people waiting in line complained that others were cutting line in front of them or ducking under the ropes.
"And some of them are getting mad, so we hand out numbers to cut down on the confusion," she said.