Isus, who’s in fourth grade, wears a girl’s shoe size 4. In the sunny parking lot of Oakland’s Oracle Arena on Saturday, she clutched a new pink shoebox with her small hands. She peeked inside. “I need new tennis shoes,” she said, and looked back to her mother. “Sometimes in PE we go running!”
Isus carefully removed her shoes from the box and tugged apart their plastic casings. Her mother asked her to move out of the way so other kids could get their shoes too. As a long line of eager families formed behind her, she took four steps forward and sat down on the parking lot pavement. She slid her feet into the new athletic shoes and tied their laces in double-knotted bows by herself.
Isus lifted her foot in the air: “I like them!”
Isus is one of thousands of low-income students who received free new shoes on Saturday. In partnership with Oracle Arena and O.co Coliseum, Oakland’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) distributed 2,500 pairs of shoes and provided services for around 5,000 attendees at its 18th Annual Back-to-School Shoe Giveaway.
Organizations including Alameda County Public Health, La Clinica de La Raza, and Lincoln Child Center lined the parking lot perimeter. Two feet from the entrance, children and parents huddled around a table where they pored over free cookbooks and learned about lunchtime nutrition. The table displayed soda and juice bottles, each labeled with their sugar contents.
This year, the entire event was “blown out ten fold or more,” said Dawn Abram, one of 12 volunteers on the Shoe Giveaway planning committee. “Having new shoes gives the kids confidence and self-esteem to start the school year right.”
Abram recruits volunteers from FAME’s congregation to help with event logistics.
“It’s local and we’re from here,” said Elain Ho, one of 140 volunteers who distributed shoes and other services on Saturday. “We just wanted to help the community.” Ho described a girl with an ecstatic smile running to receive her box of new shoes: “You see the really big smiles on their faces. They’re so happy.”
In August, families applied for free new shoes for their children at www.bestfoot4ward.org, and were notified about selection earlier this month. On the website, applicants filed personal information and selected a shoe style preference – athletic or dress – and size. Selected families received tickets redeemable for free new shoes at Oracle Arena’s parking lot. Ninety percent of the applicants have annual incomes of $40,000 or less.
“18 years ago, we began this event because we believe it’s important for young people to go back to school with new shoes, ” said Pastor Harold Mayberry of FAME Church. “If you don’t have shoes, you can’t get to school.”
In addition to the Shoe Giveaway, FAME feeds 900 people each month. “We believe that this event will help communities understand that churches are serious about growing community, developing community and healing community,” said Mayberry. “Any church in a community that is not responsive to that community does not deserve to be in that community.”
Tax-deductible contributions from sponsors enable FAME to purchase the new shoes. This year’s sponsors included Kaiser Permanente, The Clorox Company, and three professional sports teams–the Raiders, the Athletics, and the Golden State Warriors.
The Shoe Giveaway is a “broader event to bring in the family to make sure the church is involved with the overall health of the family,” said Pam Moore, a volunteer and FAME congregant.
Latasha Coleman from West Oakland came to the Shoe Giveaway to receive shoes for three of her children and two of her grandchildren. Before heading to the shoe distribution line, her family sat around a table together to enjoy a free lunch of sandwiches, fruit and milk.
“As a parent, I’m enjoying it because it’s an out,” Coleman said. “The kids can go play, get something to eat.” Coleman has received free shoes for her family from FAME in previous Shoe Giveaways, but this year’s event was her favorite, she said. Here, she could relax, watch her children play, and collect the shoes at her leisure.
“It’s a blessing,” Coleman said. “Kids wear out shoes, they tear ‘em up quick. So this is a help. An extra pair of shoes is always a help.”