Best foot forward

A Florida club fits hundreds of children with new shoes and socks.

Story by Julie Saetre
Photos by Molly Dempsey

The first time Esther Anderson volunteered with her Kiwanis club’s Shoes and Socks project, she cried.

It was an unexpected reaction, she recalls. When she joined the Rockledge Kiwanis Club, she wasn’t immediately impressed with the long-running effort, which brings new athletic footwear to children. Surely, she thought, the students had more pressing needs.

Fairglen Elementary School student Johnny Gurich, right, tries on shoes with the help of Wanda Mucahy of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office during the Kiwanis Club of Rockledge shoe distribution.

That initial experience changed her mind quickly. Some children were clad in kicks that were falling apart; many had never worn a new pair.

“When you arrive, you see children who don’t even make eye contact,” Anderson says. “By the time they leave, these kids have smiles on their faces and think they can fly in their new shoes.”

Kiwanis Club of Rockledge member Ted Hartselle unties the new shoes for Fairglen Elementary students.

Since 1978, Rockledge Kiwanis club members have distributed more than 96,000 pairs of shoes and socks through the Nestor Hebert Shoe Fund, named after the businessman who started the project decades earlier. This year, 13 schools will benefit from their efforts.

It’s no small feat, Anderson says. The club maintains a nonprofit fund devoted strictly to buying new shoes and socks; a separate nonprofit account holds monies used to rent, air-condition and maintain a storage warehouse for the purchases. Parents sign permission slips to allow their children’s participation and indicate the necessary sizes.

On distribution day, it’s not just grab-and-go. Assisted by members of the Rockledge High School Key Club, Kiwanians provide a custom shoe fit for each child—as many as 190 per school—to ensure comfort and durability.

Kiwanis Club of Rockledge member Frederick Gerry Reitz, right, speaks to Rockledge High School Key Club members who helped Fairglen Elementary School students try on new shoes.

“It’s personal all the way down the line,” Anderson says. “And the kids go home with the new shoes on their feet.”

To keep the shoe flow constant, the club hosts its Children’s Charities Golf Tournament each spring, an event that brings up to US$15,000 annually. The club also mails 4,000 pledge requests per year, and some businesses display shoe-fund cans for additional collection opportunities.

Donations, Anderson says, come about in unexpected ways. A visitor to a hair salon, for example, saw a collection can and stopped in surprise. As a child, she told staff, she had received free shoes from the program; it was a fond memory. Dropping money into the can, she added that it felt good to give back.

This story originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

6 thoughts on “Best foot forward

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  1. Excellent Article about what Kiwanis contributes to the betterment of the world. Barry M. Shaw, Island Park, President, Island Park,NY Kiwanis Club

  2. The Rockledge Fl. Kiwanis Club delivered needed shoe’s as requested by Croton Elementary School , Melbourne Fl. last year. The Eau Gallie Kiwanis Club stocks ” Kid’s Closets” at many Brevard County,Fl. Elementary Schools and Rockledge contributes to the closet’s on an as needed basis. Thank you Lester and your Rockledge Foundation for this support.
    Henry A. Champagne- Club & Foundation Secretary
    Eau Gallie Suntree Kiwanis Club
    C/O USPS 410913
    Melbourne Fl.32941

  3. This is why we are in Kiwanis. Great article but the picture with the Key Club is disappointing in the fact that their Key Club, just like our sponsored club locally, is mostly female. Where are the young men who should be volunteering??

  4. I am a Past President of our Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral, FL. I have been a member since l978. We sponsor 3 Key Clubs in 3 of the High Schools in Cape Coral. I think the shoe & socks program is a plus for Key Clubs and our Club should agree to help them with finances and personnel. Bob Day.

  5. I don’t know Bob Day, but I know the Cape Coral club’s initiative is a good one that needs to be supported. Bob Hastings, Saginaw, Michigan Kiwanis, celebrating our 100th anniversary this year.

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