By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Country music singer Billy Gilman has started handing out the first pairs of shoes funded by his all-star charity single "The Choice," but says he wants to give away 500,000 worldwide before he's done.
"The kids looked like they had won the lottery," Gilman, 24, said, after handing out shoes to kids in Jacksonville, Florida, this week.
"You ask them for their size, you wash and dry their feet and then you put on their new pair of shoes. If you've never experienced it, you just have no idea. It's amazing how a bond can be created by supplying a pair of shoes," he told Reuters.
Gilman was joined by 19 country artists in 2011 to record the charity single "The Choice" that he co-wrote to raise money for the Nashville-based non-profit Soles4Souls. The organization provides new or gently used shoes for children and adults in need around the world.
The song was released in April and fans have already bought more than 35,000 copies of "The Choice." All proceeds from the sale of the single goes directly to Soles4Souls to purchase shoes.
"Each purchase equals one pair of shoes," he said. "I tell people it is so simple. You just click on download and it's like you were handing Soles4Souls the money."
Gilman said he had no idea before getting involved with Soles4Souls that so many people in the world did not have shoes, when most just take it for granted that they can go out and buy a new pair whether they need them or not.
He said he hopes to fund 500,000 pairs from the venture.
Gilman, who had a smash single at the age of 11 with "One Voice," was joined for "The Choice" by country artists Keith Urban, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, LeAnn Rimes, Randy Travis, Craig Morgan, Rodney Atkins, Steve Holy, Kellie Pickler, Keith Urban, Wynonna Judd, Amy Grant, Montgomery Gentry, Diamond Rio, Ronnie Milsap, Richie McDonald of Lonestar and Josh Turner.
"The cool thing about Nashville is country music always knows how to pay it forward," said Gilman, who co-wrote the tune with Dan Murph and Philip Douglas.
The accompanying video for the song includes footage of Gilman in Haiti, a trip he took with Soles4Souls after they had agreed to work together.
The video follows one pair of shoes from its point of donation to its new owner.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Lisa Shumaker)