Shoes That Fit Helps County Kids
By Dianne Anderson
Feet grow fast for kids — much faster than parents can pay the bills.
This back to school time of year is a big push for Shoes That Fit. It’s when the nonprofit handles its highest requests for help.
Nekeda Newell Hall, director of corporate engagement at their Emergency Shoe Warehouse in Claremont, said the organization is now calling on community donations.
Their huge warehouse never turns needy children away.
Often, education liaisons will come out to their warehouse on emergency to get shoes for children, that are practically barefoot on the school grounds. Each year in San Bernardino County, school counselors and social workers drive down to pick up shoes for thousands of local kids.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “One child might wear a pair today, but tomorrow the child might skip school so their sibling can [have shoes] to go to school.”
Shoes really fall at the bottom of the list, even if the shoes are moldy or the siblings are sharing shoes, she said.
Parents that need help are directed to their school counselors, who send their nonprofit a list of children in need. Shoes that Fit also works with corporate partners to adopt local schools. When they receive a list of students that need shoes, they can pass it on to local companies, civic groups, or churches that also help to provide for the kids.
While most of their services are offered through schools, she said they also work closely with social workers, law enforcement, and case workers representing families with children that are displaced, homeless or in battered women’s shelters.
In tracking the level of need in recent years, documenting and photographing how worn out the shoes that they replace, she said the need today is more than she can recall.
In the past year alone, the organization has given shoes to over 100,000 children nationwide. Locally, they have donated to 266 schools, helping a total of 5,748 children across San Bernardino County.
“When we looked at the need, we determined that we really need to be doubling the number of kids that we help year over year,” she said.
While families are doing the best they can, she said that other big bills always take priority. It’s a choice between rent, the car, the clothes, and food.
“You see a little girl wearing their father’s shoes, or a little boy wearing his grandmother’s shoes. These are things we literally see with our own eyes,” she said.
Her focus is getting athletes and celebrities involved to draw attention to the cause, and hopefully attract new partners, corporate engagement, and individual donors.
Many of the kids that they serve are trading out shoes that are completely unwearable, ripped out at the sides, or missing the soles.
Even worse is that school age kids can be unmerciful in the way they bully others. In one case, a third-grade boy was so embarrassed wearing his sister’s pink jellies that he was hiding in the bushes.
“He could have been humiliated, we aren’t sure that the other kids didn’t see him,” she said. “He was hiding in the bushes for a reason. We hope to help kids fit in.”
Any counselor or social worker can come to the warehouse during office hours to get shoes when needed.
For San Bernardino County, the emergency Claremont warehouse continues collecting new shoes year round, and everyone is invited to drop off a pair and to say hello.
She welcomes any organizations or programs that want to help with shoe drives, knowing that all shoes are going back to support the community.
“We know that based on the liaisons and the teachers we speak to, once we give kids a new pair of shoes, they want to sit in the front of the class. They want to raise their hand, they want to play on the playground.”
For more information, see www.shoesthatfit.org
Or call, (909) 482-0050