Equal Footing Shoe Fund: Giving hope two shoes at a time

Imagine it is one of those bitterly cold, wet winter days: the type where you don’t even want to leave the house. Now, imagine that you are a 7 year old boy having to walk down your street to the bus stop in this weather…with holes in your shoes.  This is an unfortunate reality for many children in southern West Virginia experiencing poverty. When a family has to choose between keeping the lights on, putting food on the table, and buying their son a new pair of shoes, sometimes the pair of shoes is not the top priority.

Melanie Smith, administrative assistant REACHH, right and Christina Cowley, Community Impact Coordinator with United Way, sort through shoes that were donated by the Beckley Rotary Club and Rotary District to help needy children in Raleigh and Summers Counties.
(Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

The United Way of Southern West Virginia’s Equal Footing Shoe Fund program was born out of this very basic, yet sometimes overlooked thought: all children deserve safe shoes to learn, play, and be comfortable in. We believe that a clean, comfortable pair of shoes that fit could mean the world to a child in need. Not only is it safer for a child to wear shoes that are their size instead of ones that are too big or too small, it relieves them from the embarrassment and stigmatization that they are unfortunately exposed to when other kids notice they don’t have shoes that fit them, or that they have holes in their shoes.

The program is very straight forward. Any time a professional person of authority in a child’s life – excluding family members – identifies a need for a new pair of shoes, that adult can call the United Way of Southern West Virginia and we will provide a new pair of shoes to that child: no questions asked. The only information that we collect is the gender, shoe size, and county in which the child lives so that we can keep trackof where our shoes are going. Adults who may refer children to this program include school counselors, social workers, Child Advocacy Center staff, foster care agencies, HeadStart staff, and teachers. This referral process allows us to feel confident that shoes will go directly to the child in need.

So far in 2018, we have distributed over 350 pairs of shoes to children in all seven of the counties that we serve. We have been able to achieve this with the help of partner distribution centers in two of the counties that are further from our office, Summers and Wyoming. REACHH in Hinton and Westside Pharmacy in Oceana have helped us immensely by being distribution sites. Once we screen and approve requests from referring agencies in their counties, we are able to send folks directly to the distribution site to pick up shoes, instead of having to travel from our office in Beckley, incurring mileage costs and potentially having to wait for an opening in staff schedules. In Fall 2018, we will be opening a new Shoe Distribution Site in collaboration with Sandy River Middle School in McDowell County, where we will hope to meet the needs of their students and students in surrounding schools.

If you have any questions about the Equal Footing Shoe Fund program, would like to request shoes for children in your school or program, or would like to make a donation to keeping children safe and comfortable, please contact Christina Cowley at ccowley@unitedwayswv.org or at 304-253-2111.