Shoes That Fit
Looking at them, no one would guess that a little pair of girl’s pink plastic jelly shoes would hold such a touching history. But this pair, now sitting in an office in Claremont, California, once belonged to a little boy who was too ashamed to wear them, too embarrassed by his family’s poverty to go to school.
Today the shoes belong to Roni Lomeli, executive director of Shoes That Fit, a successful charitable organization that builds the self-worth of children in need by providing them with new shoes for school. But why shoes? Isn’t it more important to give struggling children and their families other means of support first? When kids’ shoes are torn, worn and wet, they just can’t focus on their studies. Instead they focus on how uncomfortable they are, Roni says.
Shoes That Fit has been helping children into new footwear and clothing so they can enjoy comfort and dignity since it began in 1992. Today, despite operating without any government funding, Shoes That Fit has gone from helping one school in one state to helping over 1,200 schools in 35 states across the U.S.
In the early years Roni, who was also working as an insurance executive and volunteering for Shoes That Fit, followed the charity’s directions: she would help a nearby school identify children in need, the school would measure their feet, she would write down the measurements and post them on cards, then she’d put the cards on a bulletin board at her daughters’ private school. Teachers and parents would take a card, go to a store and buy the corresponding pair of shoes, and Roni would drop them off.
This traditional model still works today, with hundreds of volunteers from schools, churches, businesses and civic organizations across the country pitching in.
The Shoes That Fit staff and volunteers provide brand-new athletic shoes that are attractive and comfortable—and are given in private so the kids don’t feel stigmatized.
While successes mount each day, Roni says the next goal is to partner with more corporations and cover other states to reach out to as many children as possible, particularly as the economy staggers and more families need help.