ENCINITAS — The dozens of eager youngsters waited outside for the Famous Footwear in Encinitas to open an hour early on Saturday, asking each other what they were going to do — go for two pairs of shoes or opt for the combination of a pair of shoes and a backpack?
And with a fury of little feet being measured and fitted, and the number of boxes opened and scattered in each aisle, shoes, it seemed, was the overwhelming answer.
Behind the back-to-school shopping spree were Encinitas residents Charles and Linda Van Kessler, founders of the nonprofit charity Passion 4 K.I.D.S. (Kids in Desperate Situations).
The charity organization, which began with Charles back in 1986 in Texas, has been helping to provide for handicapped, neglected, abandoned, abused and underprivileged kids ever since.
Myesha Perry, from Vista, is a single mother of four children, with 2-year-old triplets in daycare and her oldest son in pre-kindergarten.
She said she wouldn’t be able to afford shoes for her kids because she doesn’t get paid that much.
“And for Passion 4 K.I.D.S. to be able to provide shoes for my kids is awesome,” said Perry.
So far the organization has helped maybe 100 families.
“It may not sound like a lot,” Charles, 74, said. “But the things we do are sometimes astronomical.”
The organization has given away four handicap vans, remodeled two homes and gives support to an El Cajon family that has adopted 18 special needs children.
They’ve also raised $100,000 for Baby Izaiah, the little boy who was hit by a drunk driver in 2010 and left paralyzed, and his family to make a down payment on a handicap accessible home.
Jacob Wallis, Izaiah’s father, said the Van Kesslers have been with the family since day one.
“At first we were strangers and as the time went on we became family. Ever since day one, they’ve always looked out for Izaiah and all of his needs.”
Over the years, the Wallis’ sense of routine has settled in now that they’re in their own home.
“It’s a place that we can call home, rather than a place that we’re just renting out. Izaiah’s definitely comfortable there,” Wallis said.
The kids and their families attending Saturday’s event came from all over San Diego County because, Charles explained, the needs come from everywhere.
“We get more and more requests and we have less and less funds,” Charles said.
He said Passion 4 K.I.D.S. is getting “pretty dangerously low on funds,” right now.
It’s always the same story, Charles added. “We need funds.”
“We go begging,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. We beg companies — we beg everywhere — we just beg to make it happen. That’s a tough way to go, but we do it.”
Getting by on local donations, the couple continues to run the nonprofit, and Charles’ other business, Passion 4 Life vitamins, out of their Encinitas home.
The Van Kesslers don’t take any of the donations for their salaries and portions of the sales of the Passion 4 Life vitamins go back into the nonprofit organization.
When people make donations, Charles is adamant that the money doesn’t go to any overhead, expenses and salaries.
Born in Amsterdam, Holland in 1941, Charles, at 2 years old, saw his family snatched away in front of his own eyes by the Nazis, he said.
He would be left to spend his early childhood in a state-run orphanage, where he would suffer eight years of abuse, malnutrition, no nutrition — eating only sugar beets and flower bulbs for survival.
After so much, Charles ran away from the orphanage, drifting all over Holland, he said, begging for food and a place to sleep.
At the age of 15, he was able to get a job, and then later, in 1964, he was able to come to the U.S.
“My outlook on life changed when I came to America and teamed up with some missionaries to go across the border into the garbage dump areas. That’s where my life really took hold,” he said. “I said, ‘I gotta do something with my life to make a difference for kids so they don’t go through what I go through,’” he said.
“God spoke to me in those days already, said Charles. “He said, ‘I need to do something more with my life and deal with these children.’”
That’s when he founded his charity.
In 1996 Charles moved to San Diego, and five years later he would meet Linda.
With her expertise in marketing and public relations (working in the White House under President Gerald Ford’s administration) the couple has been able to build steam in getting the word out about the organization.
As for what’s next for the charity, that’s hard to determine, Charles said.
“We do so much and it just continues,” he said. “We don’t know what else is there besides what we do. That’s what we do. We just want to increase our efforts and do more. Always do more because there is such a need right here.”