For Graciela Landa, receiving free shoes for her children from a Grand Rapids nonprofit organization was a big relief.
Pregnant with her sixth child, Landa watched her third-grade daughter Nimsi and first-grade son Ismael try on brand new and stylish athletic shoes. The students were getting ready to head back to school at Godfrey-Lee Elementary School. But first they stopped at In the Image and its Shoes Help Our Elementary Students program — SHOES for short.
“It helps a lot because we are a big family and to buy a lot of school clothes is expensive,” Landa said, with her oldest son, a middle school student, translating.
In the Image invited 11,000 students from 34 schools to receive new shoes during the two weeks before the first day of school. Executive Director Beth Ann Egan said about 5,000 students typically come for shoes during the back-to-school event, and 3,000 to 4,000 more will receive them during the school year. Qualifying schools, which have a high number of students who receive free- and reduced-price lunches, included Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Godfrey-Lee and Kentwood districts.
The faith-based organization at 1823 South Division Ave. started SHOES 17 years ago. It is funded through donations and proceeds from In the Image’s recycling program. The shoes, bought in bulk for about $15 each, are available in a variety of colors and styles. Sparkles, Angry Birds and neon colors brought smiles to students’ faces.
“I had a kid that came in a couple days ago and he was really quiet until he found his perfect pair of shoes,” Egan recalled. “He said, ‘I think I can run faster now.'”
That’s the goal of the program: to send students to school with confidence that they can “run faster, play harder and jump higher,” not having to worry about their shoes falling apart.
Jennifer Koller, Kent School Services Community School Coordinator at the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center, volunteered at In the Image to help families she works with get shoes for their children.
“It’s one less thing parents have to worry about for back to school,” Koller said. “It’s kind of fun for the kids to choose what style they want instead of always having to be practical.”