Sneaker Exchange continues to provide school shoes to students
By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - Last Friday, 21 students from Highlands Elementary School walked into their classrooms with springs in their steps and smiles on their faces, thanks to their brand-new shoes.
Kindergartener Sabin Shellman and other elementary students chattered excitedly as they first tried on new white socks and then explored the shelves of Payless ShoeSource in Vero Beach for a new pair of free sneakers, paid for by grants and private donations collected by The Education Foundation of Indian River County.
Sabin tried on athletic shoes with Velcro closures and a familiar character on the side.
"I picked out Lightning McQueen shoes because he's my favorite racer," Sabin said.
As he took his box with new shoes to the counter to be checked out, he asked Education Foundation program coordinator Mary Miner if he could put them on right away.
After he was told yes, he shouted excitedly, "Oh yeah!"
"Can I run in them too? I think they will help me run faster," he said.
Alexandra Ramirez, a second-grader, took her time in perusing the shoe options and finally decided on a pair of light-up silver, pink, purple and blue sneakers.
"I never had light up shoes before," she said excitedly.
Fellow second-grader Regan Sowa said it was the second time she had been a part of the Sneaker Exchange program and she was very excited to get her new shoes from the store.
"I tried on lots of different shoes to find the perfect one, and I did. My feet don't walk out of them," she said, while admiring the light catching on the glittery colored accents on her shoes.
The Sneaker Exchange program, organized by The Education Foundation, has been outfitting sneakers to qualifying students since 1993. The students benefitting from the program are identified by the free and reduced lunch reports and sometimes, teacher recommendations, said Ms. Miner.
Liz Gioffre, administrative assistant to Highlands Elementary Principal Lillian Torres-Martinez, said she accompanies the children from her school to the shoe store each time they are on the schedule.
She said her school's student population on free and reduced lunch has continued to climb each year and some parents struggle to outfit their children for school.
Per school district policy, elementary students must wear sneakers to school for safety reasons, and some parents can only manage to have one pair of acceptable school shoes for their child, so the Sneaker Exchange program is a big help, Ms. Gioffre said.
Middle-school and high- school students also benefit from the program, though they are not taken en masse to the shoe store, Ms. Miner said.
Secondary students are given vouchers with photo identification and can go to the store with their parents or by themselves to pick out a pair that suits them, she said.
On Nov. 29, The Education Foundation announced they had been selected as an official partner of Payless Gives, an annual giving program from Payless ShoeSource.
"In its third year, the goal of the 'Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids' program remains the same: to provide footwear, a basic necessity, to children who might otherwise go without," said LuAnn Via, CEO of Payless in a press release.
"Unemployment is still very high, affecting many families that struggle to provide their children with basic essentials. This is especially challenging during the holidays, and with the Education Foundation of Indian River County's help, we hope to make a bigger impact than ever this year," Ms. Via said.
For more information about the Education Foundation of Indian River County, visit www.edfoundationirc.org.