Having a nice new pair of shoes (or several) that actually fit and are not pretty much worn out before even putting them on for the first time is something most kids in the U.S. take for granted, especially with the start of a new school year and the coming of the chilly autumn and frigid winter months.
But sadly, such is not the case for untold thousands of children and youth in distressed rural Appalachian communities where a single pair of shoes may be passed down for years from sibling to sibling until there’s more hole than sole.
We’ve even heard reports of young children showing up to school in shoes passed down from a parent, stuffed with newspapers to make them “fit,” and arriving for classes with sandals, and even flipflops, on their feet in the winter.
But through our basic needs program, each year our partners in Georgia, Kentucky and West Virginia receive cash grants to enable them to take hundreds of needy children in their communities to a local store where they can pick out a brand new pair of shoes of their choice, most for their very first time.
In Beattyville, Kentucky, Sherry Lanham serves as its volunteer community representative and her hope is to provide up to 70 children this year with a new pair of shoes at a cost of less than $50 each.
“We will take the children to the local Rose Brothers department store and let them shop for their shoes,” said Sherry. “The children will be able to pick out the shoes they want and will be involved in the entire process.”
(As an aside, Sherry notes that by purchasing the shoes at the store in downtown Beattyville the grant funding also serves a boon to the local economy.)
In McDowell County, West Virginia, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) co-executive director Dyanne Spriggs notes that shoes are a basic, but great unmet need of children and youth in its service area, and even when someone with good intentions drops off used shoes at their family pantry they “are not in good shape, so we have to purchase shoes for the children in the community.
“Shoes are one of the most needed items in our family pantry.”
She told us of a young woman who had come to the pantry with her toddler who was running around barefooted.
“I asked her if he had any shoes, and she said he did, however she had to hurry when she was leaving her ex-boyfriend’s house and didn’t put them on,” Dyanne told us. “I found a brand-new pair of shoes that I had bought with funding from Americans Helping Americans® that I was hoping would fit him – and he was so excited when they did!”
On one big day for children in BCPIA’s afterschool program recently, Dyanne reported they were taken to the Shoe Show store in the nearby town of Welch where they got to select a pair of shoes and try them on.
In other instances, Dyanne has used grant funding to order shoes online “that were very reasonably priced” to have on hand for children through its family pantry.
“Kids need well-fitting shoes that are appropriate for the weather,” says Dyanne. “They feel better about themselves and worry less about the way they look.
“There are always big smiles when kids get a new pair of shoes!”