Kindergartner Asaiah Copridge got a new pair of shoes Wednesday – a pair of red-and-gray sneakers, fresh out of the box.
“Look at my shoes,” the smiling 6-year-old told his teacher. “I got gloves, too, and an awesome hat!”
For the past 10 years, the Boeing Employees Community Fund has organized a shoes-and-socks holiday distribution project at Colvin Elementary School in southeast Wichita. Every student at Colvin gets a new pair of shoes, socks, gloves and a hat.
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“The reason we started it was to build self-esteem,” said Christine Nixon, a volunteer with the Boeing Employees group. “Having a new pair of shoes makes you feel good about yourself, especially around the holidays.
“Then we saw that kindergarten little girls were coming (to school) in flip-flops, sometimes in the snow and ice, and kids had duct tape wrapped around their shoes. So we knew this was a need.”
Colvin, located in the heart of Wichita’s Planeview neighborhood, is one of the city’s most economically disadvantaged schools. More than 98 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty.
Earlier this year, volunteers from Payless Shoe Source, another sponsor, fitted Colvin students for their new shoes. On Wednesday, teachers led their classes into the school gymnasium, where volunteers helped the children try on their shoes and exchange ones that didn’t fit correctly. Students who enrolled recently were fitted on the spot and given shoes from a box of extras.
“It gives me an opportunity to be thankful for the things that I have because obviously these kids are less fortunate,” said Alan Gruger, a district leader for Payless, who wore a Santa hat while he fitted a seemingly endless line of children.
“It’s good to really see the light in their eyes shine when we put these new shoes on their feet,” he said. “It’s great.”
Volunteers will continue the giveaway Thursday at Cooper and Oaklawn elementaries in Derby. Next week, students at Jardine Middle School in Wichita will receive sweatshirts donated by Chapel Hill United Methodist Church.
Other sponsors of the annual giveaway at Colvin include Hatman Jack’s, Papa John’s Pizza, His Helping Hands, LaMar’s Donuts and Shirts Plus.
With Boeing closing its Wichita operations, officials with the Employees Community Fund gave remaining funds to United Way of the Plains to continue the program.
Colvin officials say many families rely on charities or hand-me-downs for shoes, which means kids’ shoes often don’t fit well, if at all. Teachers see students wearing shoes three sizes too big, or worn through at the soles.
“Kids will tell us, ‘My mom told me to get my shoes two sizes bigger,’ ” said Nixon, the Boeing volunteer. “And we say, ‘No honey, you need to have good, fitted shoes.’ … A lot of them have never had a brand new pair of shoes before.”
Kindergartner Cesar Vital traded his worn-out sneakers for a new pair and, like most of his classmates, wore the new shoes back to class Wednesday.
“I like these ones,” he whispered, looking down at his shoes. “They’ll make me go fast.”