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Shoes That Fit Back-to-School backpack campaign is back – with podcast

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

On Wednesday afternoon, Shoes That Fit’s office administrator Jarret Bjornsen was at work creating nametags and school supply lists that will soon accompany backpacks for an upcoming initiative.

The Shoes That Fit Back-to-School Backpack campaign is back and the nonprofit is almost done getting backpacks ready for volunteers to fill.

The annual campaign is in its 15th year and involves back-to-school shopping for children in need, according to CEO and executive director, Amy Fass.

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Backpacks will be placed at area businesses and organizations and in neighboring cities, with each having a local area student’s nametag on it including the student’s grade, shoe size and list of school supplies.

Backpacks may be picked by residents from participating donation centers and must be returned to that same donation center. Donors are asked to fill the backpacks with at least one pair of shoes and five pairs of socks, while adding school supplies is optional but appreciated.

When the campaign kicks off on July 1, backpacks will be available at various locations, including Aromatique Skin & Body Care, Arteco Partners, the Claremont Police Department, Packing House Wines, Some Crust Bakery, Claremont United Church of Christ, among others. To view a full list of participating locations, visit shoesthatfit.org.

The campaign concludes on July 24, and all backpacks must be returned by then. For those unable to fill a backpack or who want to donate monetarily, visit the Shoes That Fit website and click “donate” at the top of the page.

On Wednesday, Jarret Bjornsen, Shoes That Fit’s office administrator, holds up two of the 380 backpacks that the nonprofit hopes to fill as part of its upcoming Back-To-school Backpack campaign inside the nonprofits distribution center in Claremont. The campaign officially kicks off on July 1 and various businesses and organizations around the area will be participating as donation centers for the campaign. To view a full list of participating locations for this year’s backpack campaign, visit shoesthatfit.org. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo

 

According to Fass, the annual campaign is essential to low-income families, and primarily serves kindergarten to 12th grade students around Claremont, La Verne, Pomona, Montclair and Upland. Citing the high cost of living in Southern California, on top of food and other basic expenses parents must balance, Fass said families can struggle to afford shoes constantly for their children.

Fass also recognized that teachers do what they can to supply materials for their classrooms, but that it gets expensive when they try to cover all the essentials such as backpacks, shoes and other items. She also noted schools in the area do not have a resource solely to provide shoes for students who need them.

“It’s just a huge unfunded need that most people don’t notice,” Fass said. But one the backpack campaign aims to address.

The initiative has been going strong since its inception in 2007. Although COVID-19 slowed it down in 2020 and 2021, nothing has ever shut down the campaign.

In 2020, there was a decrease in volunteers and in backpacks being filled, mostly because schools and crucial supply chains for shoes were closed at the time. The fear of contracting COVID-19 was also a factor and donors began looking at different ways to support the campaign.

Rather than go out shopping, the nonprofit’s CEO said donors began shopping online. Fass also shared, “Part of what we’ve seen in the last two years is that … we’re finding more and more people just want to write us a check and have us do all that [back to school shopping] work.”

In addition, over the last two years, Fass noted a need for the nonprofit only increased.

“We’re just seeing an incredible rise in need as the economy has made an even bigger divide between those who have, and those who don’t [have],” Fass said. “Schools that used to come to us just need 30 pairs of shoes for students, that could be doubled now.”

With the increase in urgency in addressing child poverty, Fass expects a decent response from the community this time around. She noted it’s also one of the few instances when times feel normal and the topic of COVID-19 is not as prominent as it once was, which might bring back some donors who skipped a year or two of the campaign.

The nonprofit aims to supply about 380 students between kindergarten and 12th grade through this year’s backpack campaign. Since 2007, the campaign has “helped more than 4,000 local children with the tools they need to start the school year off strong,” a news release said.

“I feel like this [campaign] is something that is very simple, very concrete that you can do to make a difference in the life of a child today,” Fass said. “It’s both providing a basic need, but also letting the kids know that the community cares.”

In addition to the backpacks, residents are always welcome to drop off athletic shoes and socks at the nonprofit’s offices, located at 1420 N. Claremont Blvd., Suite 204A. Offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The mission of the nonprofit is to supply children across the United States with a “decent pair of good quality athletic shoes,” and in 2020, provided over 100,000 children across the nation with shoes. This year, the goal is to help an additional 50,000 children.

Fass explained the nonprofit is just one piece of the puzzle that can help address a key issue surrounding child poverty.

“Kids are either missing school because they don’t have shoes; wearing shoes that are inappropriate; they’re getting bullied or being teased on the playground,” Fass said. “It affects attendance. It affects self-esteem I think more than anything else. Not having … something as necessary as a decent pair of shoes really has a huge impact on a child’s sense of themselves and a sense of where they can go [in life].”

“We really want them to have something they can be proud to wear,” Fass added.

For more information about the nonprofit or its backpack campaign, call Shoes That Fit at (909) 482-0050.

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