New neon pink shoes with orange laces put a smile on Godfrey Early Childhood Center student Dulce Venegas’ face, and she declares herself ready “to run.”
Mom is happy too. “It’s a big help,” says Lucia Venegas, whose three children received free, back-to-school shoes from In the Image, a faith-based non-profit organization at 1823 South Division Ave. Her son Jesus, 10, says he looks forward to playing soccer in his new pair.
“You can choose the kind you want,” he says happily. All around them, students are fitted for new shoes, choosing from many different colors and styles.
The two-week giveaway for kindergarten through fifth-grade students through Aug. 30, has taken place for 16 years with the number of shoes donated increasing from an initial 4,000-5,000 pairs to 9,000 last year and 13,000 this year, says In the Image Executive Director Jay Starkey.
The program helps schools that serve populations with significant need, he says. This year that included all students from Grand Rapids Public elementary schools, Godfrey-Lee schools, Wyoming Public Schools and Kentwood Public Schools. Students receive certificates in the mail to get shoes or can present proof of their enrollment.
In the Images’ Shoes Help Our Elementary Students (S.H.O.E.S) program is funded through donations and proceeds from the organization’s recycling program. Volunteers shop for new shoes, which cost about $13 because of the bulk rate the organization receives.
“We show them we believe in them; God believes in them and, hopefully, they will believe in themselves,” Starkey says. “The smiles on the kids” faces explain without words the reason behind program.”