Best foot forward
A Florida Kiwanis club and the Key Club it sponsors fit hundreds of children with new shoes and socks.
Story by Julie Saetre • Photos by Molly Dempsey
The first time Esther Anderson volunteered with her Kiwanis club’s Shoes and Socks project, she cried.
It was an unexpected reaction, she recalls. When she joined the Rockledge Kiwanis Club, she wasn’t immediately impressed with the long-running effort, which brings new athletic footwear to children. Surely, she thought, the students had more pressing needs.
That initial experience changed her mind quickly. Some children were clad in kicks that were falling apart; many had never worn a new pair.
“When you arrive, you see children who don’t even make eye contact,” Anderson says. “By the time they leave, these kids have smiles on their faces and think they can fly in their new shoes.”
Since 1978, Rockledge club members have distributed more than 96,000 pairs of shoes and socks through the Nestor Hebert Shoe Fund, named after the businessman who started the project decades earlier. This year, 13 schools will benefit from their efforts.
It’s no small feat, Anderson says. The club maintains a nonprofit fund devoted strictly to buying new shoes and socks; a separate nonprofit account holds monies used to rent, air-condition and maintain a storage warehouse for the purchases. Parents sign permission slips to allow their children’s participation and indicate the necessary sizes.
On distribution day, it’s not just grab-and-go. Assisted by members of the Rockledge High School Key Club, Kiwanians provide a custom shoe fit for each child—as many as 190 per school—to ensure comfort and durability.
“It’s personal all the way down the line,” Anderson says. “And the kids go home with the new shoes on their feet.”
To keep the shoe flow constant, the club hosts its Children’s Charities Golf Tournament each spring, an event that raises up to US$15,000 annually. The club also mails 4,000 pledge requests per year, and some businesses display shoe-fund cans for additional collection opportunities.
Donations, Anderson says, come about in unexpected ways. A visitor to a hair salon, for example, saw a collection can and stopped in surprise. As a child, she told staff, she had received free shoes from the program; it was a fond memory. Dropping money into the can, she added that it felt good to give back.
This story originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.