Many of us have fond childhood memories of running barefoot on manicured lawns on warm summer days with the carefully tended, freshly cut grass poking up through between our toes.
Following that is the excitement of having your mom or dad take you to a local shoe store and letting you pick out your very own brand-new pair of shoes, with limitations of course, no $200 pair of Air Jordans.
But sadly, for many children in Appalachia it’s no thrill to be going barefoot walking down gravel roads or through vacant lots where rusty nails could be hiding in wait.
And, while a $200 pair of the coolest sneakers is out of the question, for many of these children so is just a simple pair of good quality new shoes in families where the elder siblings pass down their outgrown shoes – regardless of condition – to their younger brothers and sisters.
For 32 years, Americans Helping Americans® has been helping families overcome the challenges they face from putting food on the table to buying the basic need items their children need, which includes properly fitting shoes.
Trying to support a family working menial, minimum-wage jobs is difficult, if not virtually impossible, for many hardworking Americans in Appalachia who are not looking for a handout, but just a helping hand up.
After paying rent so they don’t become homeless, buying groceries so they don’t go hungry, paying utility bills so they can stay warm on the coldest of winter days and cool on the hottest days of summer, paying for medicines prescribed by their doctors to maintain health, or even prevent premature death, a pair of new shoes is at the bottom of the list.
But thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans®, every year we are able to provide hundreds of children with a pair of brand-new shoes – for the vast majority the first pair of new shoes they have ever received that they got to pick out for themselves at a local shoe store.
In McDowell County, West Virginia, our partner there, Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA) uses the grant funding from our Barefeet program to purchase shoes for about 60 children and youth, most of them who are in its free afterschool and summer camp programs.
“Although we have a Family Pantry with clothing, shoes, food and household items, almost all of the shoes we receive from the community for our pantry are already worn out,” says BCPIA co-executive director Dyanne Spriggs.
She explained that while the people on public assistance do get a clothing voucher, some of them do not use them to purchase shoes for their children, plus those not on public assistance do not get a clothing voucher.
“With the parents’ permission, we would like to take the kids who participate in our afterschool/summer camp programs to a shoe store and let them pick out a pair of tennis shoes that they will like – and that actually fit,” she told us in her grant request for the coming year.
“We will use the entire funding awarded to purchase new tennis shoes for kids,” Dyanne said, adding because “we will have to travel to a neighboring county to get the shoes, we will make a day of it” and noting that “we will use other funding to transport them to the store and to feed them on the trip.”
As a nonprofit leader in McDowell County for many years, Dyanne cites the poverty statistics for the county that “clearly shows the need for kids’ shoes.
“Often, one of the most visible sign of poverty is the condition of the child’s shoes.
“Without a good pair of shoes, kids feel embarrassed, discouraged, or left out – simply because they lack something most of us take for granted.”