Shoes 4 the Shoeless
Shoes 4 the Shoeless’ mission is simple: with 41 percent of Dayton’s children living below the poverty line, this nonprofit strives to fit children in need with adequate shoes. Shoes 4 the Shoeless “relentlessly pursues a goal that no child endures the unnecessary physical and emotional distress that accompanies wearing socks or shoes that are grossly inadequate.”
Loving Neighbors, One Pair of Shoes at a Time
Kris Horlacher, Executive Director of Shoes 4 the Shoeless, says she was part of a mentoring programming for the homeless when she noticed an overwhelming need for shoes and socks among the homeless population–something basic, she says, that offers a degree of dignity and comfort. This is how Shoes 4 the Shoeless, a faith-based nonprofit with the intent of reaching out in humble service to underprivileged children in the Dayton community, got its start. Shoes 4 the Shoeless seeks to “relentlessly pursue a goal that no child endures the unnecessary physical and emotional distress that accompanies wearing socks or shoes that are grossly inadequate” and so “strives to become a valued organization in the community, known for our faith-in-action.”
The grassroots nonprofit carries out its simple, focused mission by capitalizing on partnerships and mobilizing volunteers. Its work won it national recognition in the 2011 Pepsi Refresh Competition. Shoes 4 the Shoeless won a $50,000 grant as the winner of this contest that recognizes and rewards valuable service to the community.
Horlacher reports enthusiastically that her organization delivered its 15,000th pair of shoes this September. She credits the group’s partnerships for its growth over the past four years. New relationships to partners “grow weekly,” she says. Currently Shoes 4 the Shoeless has partnerships with over 55 community organizations that serve the poor as well as with schools within every school district in the Dayton region. All funding to purchase the shoes (and now, socks and underwear as well) comes from foundations, donations form individuals, church and school drives, and annual fundraising events such as the group’s 5K race. With 3,000 local children currently on their waiting list, Horlacher says, “As long as there is need, we will continue to work to provide shoes within the underprivileged community.”
Communicating in a practical way the Christian message of “love thy neighbor” animates everything Shoes 4 the Shoeless does. For example, every box of shoes delivered comes with a Christian New Testament as a means of sharing the motivation that drives Shoes 4 the Shoeless. In addition, the organization’s newest initiative, “Kindness Matters,” has created a way for the children who receive free shoes to become givers themselves, thus practicing love of neighbor.
Shoes 4 the Shoeless volunteers go into the schools and set up a “shoe shop” on site where eligible children come and work with a volunteer one-on-one to be fitted for new shoes, using a device for foot measurement the organization itself invented. Eligible children are those who have no reasonable access to anyone that can assist them in attaining an adequate pair of shoes (or socks and underwear). While they are there to be fitted, the children make home-made Get Well cards for children who are receiving medical treatment at Dayton Children’s Hospital. The hospital provides the supplies and the school children deliver hundreds of cards to the facility in a short ceremony. But the giving doesn’t stop there. The hospital then allows each of the student representatives to pick out several books to take back to their school’s library. That’s a big gift for financially strapped schools and marks another way that children who have been recipients of charity enjoy the dignity of becoming givers and contributors to their school. Horlacher sums up, “We are living out with the kids we serve the godly principle of ‘love thy neighbor.’”