OCEANSIDE — Boys and girls from San Luis Rey Elementary piled out of the bus at the Payless Shoes store on Mission Avenue to pick out new shoes on Jan. 18. With the help of volunteers from the Assistance League of North Coast’s Footsteps program, each child was fitted with new tennis shoes and socks.
The program helps kindergarten through fifth-grade students who are identified, through their schools, as low-income students.
“A lot of these children come from large extended families,” said June Duet, Assistance League of North Coast volunteer. “With shoes there is not much to hand down. Shoes do wear out.”
Assistance League of North Coast volunteers fit and purchase shoes year round for low-income students at 50 schools throughout Oceanside, Carlsbad and Vista.
Trips are taken weekly to Payless Shoes stores. Once inside the store, students stand for a quick foot measurement and then are paired with a volunteer who guides them in selecting sturdy school shoes.
Some boys and girls make quick selections. Others need to try on a few pairs to find the perfect fit.
Fifth-grade student Madison Phelps tried on six pairs of shoes before she found the ideal pair of turquoise and white Airwalk sneakers. “I love them,” she said.
“We don’t let them get sparkly shoes,” Duet said. “They need to be substantial shoes for the playground and PE.”
In addition to keeping students clothed in sturdy footwear, the new shoes also lift students’ spirits.
“They are so proud of them,” Duet said. “They have a better attitude, are more comfortable, and are better prepared to learn.”
To supply new shoes to more than 1,500 children the league raises funds through its thrift store sales, Autumn Fantasy fundraiser and private donations.
Payless Shoes helps out by providing a discount on all shoes purchased and opening the store an hour early to accommodate the large group.
Students also receive six pairs of socks and a personal hygiene kit that includes a hairbrush, a toothbrush, shampoo, soap and a washcloth.
“They’re very excited about the things in the health kits,” Duet said. “One girl told me ‘I’ve never had my own hairbrush.’ With a health kit they can go to school with clean teeth, their hair brushed and shampooed, and are off to a good start.”
The Assistance League of North Coast plans to include middle school students in the Footsteps program next year.
The league is also wrestling with the possible dilemma of how to transport students to shoe stores next year if school districts cannot fund buses.
For more information on the Footsteps program, go to assistanceleaguenorthcoast.com.