A fitting tribute to kids in need

Shoes That Fit staffers and volunteers recently put shoes to pavement to raise awareness about a very real need faced by countless underprivileged school kids. On December 13, a contingent from the local nonprofit, which each year provides brand-new athletic shoes to thousands of needy students, joined the Pomona Fairplex’s Holiday 5K.

The following day, some of the more intrepid of Team Shoes That Fit’s two-dozen members returned to run in the Fairplex’s Holiday Half-Marathon, a 13-mile course taking runners from the Pomona Fairplex through Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, around Puddingstone Lake and back through the fairgrounds.

The group can boast a few athletic coups.

Shoes That Fit booster Geoff Owers, a math teacher at The Webb Schools, finished 12th overall in the half-marathon out of 5,500 competitors. Shoes That Fit board member Julie Hester, director of finance at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, finished 5th among women in her age division. Some children sporting Shoes That Fit T-shirts also comported themselves well, with Ryan and Riley Fass—grandchildren of Shoes That Fit Executive Director Amy Fass—taking part in the kids’ “Penguin Waddle.”

More important than fast times on the track was the opportunity to spread the word about the great work undertaken by the nonprofit, whose aim is to help as many of the 16 million US children living in poverty as possible.

Members of Shoes That Fit manned a booth throughout the weekend as part of the Fairplex’s Kool ‘n Fit Health Expo, signing people up for their email newsletter and explaining how they can help needy youngsters put their best foot forward.

Shoes That Fit is headquartered in Claremont, with a warehouse and office in the Claremont Business Park on Claremont Boulevard. The nonprofit was founded locally in 1992 and has since spread until there are chapters in 45 states as well as in Washington, DC. Shoes That Fit collects 15,000 pairs of shoes per year to distribute to students in the Pomona Valley, including those attending schools in Claremont, Upland, La Verne and Montclair. They receive another 15,000 pairs to give to children in their service area through a nationwide Nordstrom campaign.

That 30,000 total “is just a drop in the bucket,” according to Ms. Fass.

With Americans still reeling from the ongoing recession, Shoes That Fit’s mission is more imperative than ever. With this in mind, the organization has hired a new director of corporate giving. This year, Shoes That Fit has also begun to expand its reach into a few Los Angeles schools. While they only contacted a couple of schools, word has spread, with thousands of shoes being requested.

It works like this. Teachers, administrators and staff at schools served by Shoes That Fit take note when a child comes to school in worn-out or ill-fitting shoes, or hand-me-down footwear that prompts teasing or embarrassment. Shoes That Fit then sends pairs of shoes to the students who need it most.

“Poverty is not going away,” Ms. Fass said. “We’re a piece of the puzzle. We’re something really concrete that can make a difference for an immediate need. We’re trying to give kids hope.”

You don’t have to tune into those Hallmark Christmas movies to get a lump in your throat. Just step into Shoes That Fit’s Claremont headquarters and peruse the walls, decorated with framed letters sent by thankful kids over the years. One small boy wrote, “I did like the shoes. They are good for my foots,” while a little girl—who said money was tight because her single mom only works part-time—marveled at how pretty she felt in her new shoes.


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