DANVILLE – Boxes of shoes are neatly stacked on shelves at the Vermilion County Regional Office of Education, but Tricia Keith still is concerned she doesn’t have enough pairs to meet the needs of the children and teens in the county.
While making her rounds at Vermilion County schools as a homelessness coordinator, Keith has seen firsthand children who need to replace their worn out shoes or just need a pair of shoes that fit and are the correct size.
“I’ve seen kids coming to school in house slippers or with shoes with their soles flapping,” she said. “We’re having to duct tape or rubber band them together.”
So Keith decided to conduct her first shoe drive on her own last year and named it, From Your Heart to Their Soles. The shoe donations benefit students in need across Vermilion County.
“This is the second annual big shoe drive we’ve done,” she said. “We collected more than 200 pairs last year.
“I’ve done some things in the past where I’ve asked friends for help,” Keith said. “But with me reaching out to the community – we live in such a generous, giving community – I am able to collect even more shoes.”
The shoe drive kicked off Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 1, but Keith said she will accept donations of new shoes, money and coats anytime of the year.
“The big promotion is now because it’s back to school, but I will accept donations at any time,” she said.
New athletic shoes in all sizes from preschool children to adult — male and female — are being collected at three locations in the county: Regional Office of Education, 200 College St., Danville; Oakwood Grade School, 408 S. Scott St., Oakwood; and Hoopeston Area Middle School, 615 E. Orange St., Hoopeston.
“I’ve had kids at the high school with a size 15 shoe, which is hard to find,” Keith said.
Athletic shoes are preferred because they can be worn in PE class and to walk back and forth to school.
“To see these kids’ faces ... for some of these kids, this is the first pair of new shoes they’ve had,” she said.
The shoes will be given to any Vermilion County student in need with no income requirement that must be met, according to Keith.
“We have working families, and if they have three kids to buy new shoes for, it’s just not in their budget,” she explained.
Teachers, social workers and principals refer children and teens who they believe could benefit from a pair of new shoes.
“The teachers see them every day,” Keith said. “If they see a need, they contact me.”
The shoes also are available to children and teens in homeless shelters and across the county, she added.
In addition to Keith’s shoe drive, a couple of Danville businesses — CCMSI and Blue Cross/Blue Shield — are collecting shoes within their own buildings that will be added to Keith’s collection.
“Three people have donated a total of $250 to spend on shoes,” Keith said.
Batestown United Methodist also has pledged to make a monetary donation that can be used to purchase new shoes or whatever else is needed.
The need for shoes and coats for all age ranges of children and teens in the county is great.
“Last school year there were 433 homeless students in Vermilion County,” Keith said. “Those are only the ones that I have identified; there could be more.
“In most cases, they’re living with friends or grandparents because of economic hardship,” she said. “I get one call a day for help from a school, parent or agency.
“We’ve had a lot of fires over the past year, and they lose everything,” Keith said. “The need is always there.”
Anyone interested in donating shoes or money after the Oct. 1 shoe drive deadline may continue to do so at the Vermilion County Regional Office of Education, 200 College St., Danville.