CARLSBAD — What girl doesn’t look forward to buying sandals when the days get longer? Or a boy, receiving spotless new sneakers he can break in himself?
Increasingly, kids aren’t able to enjoy what has traditionally been a rite of spring because of financial hardship and the breakup of families.
Loret and Dan Ross of Carlsbad gradually became aware of the problem from their son who was a teacher, and their daughter who worked with the homeless.
After seeing an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in October 2007, the Rosses decided to take matters into their own hands. They established the Barefoot Kids Foundation.
“Oprah gave everyone in her audience $1,000 to give away, or to start a charity to help people,” Loret Ross remembers. “It was inspiring. Shoes and children came to my mind since so many kids in our own country and communities do not have shoes that fit them.”
Initially, the Rosses underwrote the project with their own money. After getting nonprofit status, they generated donations that today have resulted in distributing new shoes to more than 2,500 kids throughout the United States.
“We started by giving away $25 Payless ShoeSource gift cards because it is everywhere,” Loret Ross said. “Kids are able to buy their own shoes. Sometimes they can get two pairs.”
Donations can be made by visiting barefootkids.org and 1) Clicking “Donate” to make a direct contribution, or 2) Clicking “Supporters” to purchase products online from partners that include Amazon.com, No Fear, Starbucks, Vons, Best Buy, Staples, Travelocity, Go Daddy, Dell, PetSmart, the Discovery Channel Store and iTunes.
“If you download a song from ‘American Idol’ this year, part of the cost goes to the foundation to buy Payless ShoeSource gift cards,” Loret Ross explained.
The foundation has also teamed up with Nike to provide athletic shoes for kids in need that are registered in after-school athletic programs.
“Nike donated 600 pairs of shoes in the last two years,” she added. “They were really helpful.”
Professionals in a national distribution network operating in 27 cities and 12 states supervise the determination and distribution of new footwear, and follow-up with the children as they grow. The network includes schools, licensed state agencies and child charity service organizations throughout the country, including San Diego.
Sharon M. Lawrence is president/CEO of Voices for Children, which provides foster children with volunteer court-appointed special advocates, or CASAs. They received $1,300 in shoe donations from the foundation.
“Our CASAs often will take their case children shopping with gift cards donated by the community,” Lawrence said. “In this case, they were able to purchase many pairs of much-needed shoes for children — for sports, for back-to-school, or just to have a new pair of shoes that fit and aren’t hand-me-downs!”
Donna Greenbush is marketing manager of Casa de Amparo, which provides shelter and support for children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
“At the shelter, many ‘Casa Kids’ arrive with few belongings, especially in emergency situations, and the shoes they have may be old or worn out hand-me-downs,” she said. “The gift cards help Casa de Amparo staff get new shoes for the children quickly and the kids have the fun of picking out shoes they like and that fit well. New shoes are not only a practical necessity, they are a much-needed morale booster at a tough time in a child’s life.”
Michelle Malin is vice president of operations with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego in Escondido.
“We often see children who are wearing old and worn shoes,” she explained. “Sometimes their feet are crammed into shoes that are too small. Sometimes their toes are hanging through holes. Through the generosity of the Barefoot Kids Foundation we have been able to provide gift cards for new shoes to the families who are in the most need. It is great to see the big smiles on the children when they come back to the Club and show off their new shoes.”
For more information or to make a donation, call (877) 580-6674, e-mail [email protected] or visit barefootkids.org.