NAPLES — Summer’s shoes were holding up OK, but they were tight. So snug that she struggled to even slip them off her feet.
Summer is just one of many elementary-age students who often wear shoes that are a size or two too small for their fast-growing feet. Ill-fitting shoes can cause a multitude of problems, including blisters, calluses, toe pain and even deformities.
The reason some children keep wearing their old shoes isn’t because they really like the style, color or brand – it’s entirely economic. Today, an average pair of children’s shoes costs $40 to $60, and that’s not even a signature brand or new release.
For many families in Southwest Florida, the cost to purchase new shoes several times each year simply isn’t in the budget. It falls behind rent, utilities, food, transportation, medications and other expenses on the priority list.
Help is on the way, though. Summer recently had an opportunity to choose a new pair of shoes through a strong partnership between Guadalupe Center, Laces of Love and Snyderman Shoes of Naples. Summer, a rising third-grader in Guadalupe Center’s Summer Enrichment Program, recently joined 50 other students on the 90-minute roundtrip bus ride from Immokalee to Naples.
After arriving at Snyderman Shoes, employees and volunteers professionally measured the students’ feet before presenting footwear options – some plain, some with bright splashes of color, some with cartoon characters and superheroes. Summer chose a pair of sporty pink Sketchers with gray accents, white laces, a strap fastener and a big “S” on the side, since that’s the first letter of her name. And most importantly, the shoes fit – a perfect size 1.5.
Laces of Love, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, provides new shoes to low-income and disadvantaged children across Southwest Florida. Since its incorporation in 2005, Laces of Love has provided more than 300,000 pairs of new shoes to toddlers, children and teens. Co-founder and President Jeanne Nealon was among those helping outfit Guadalupe Center students with new shoes at Snyderman Shoes.
“When you sit down with them and you pull off their shoes that were the pair of shoes we gave them last summer, it breaks my heart,” Nealon said. “Sometimes their socks are disintegrating in our hands.
“We’ve heard stories about high school students that are hiding their feet under their desks because they’ve been wearing the same pair of Converse that they got four years ago. That pair of shoes can really define who they are sometimes. It doesn’t have to be the cool logo shoes; just a clean pair of shoes that fits them, where their toe isn’t popping out of the canvas.”
The shoe distribution event at Snyderman Shoes brought back memories for Maria Bustamante, Guadalupe Center’s donor relations manager. As a child, she was among the Immokalee students who similarly boarded a bus for Naples to pick out their own new pairs of shoes.
“I had a chance to come on the bus, just like these students, and I remember being very excited,” Bustamante said. “Being able to go into a new school year with brand-new shoes is such a confidence builder. I was just very happy and grateful to have the opportunity.”
Through Laces of Love, Snyderman Shoes provides shoes with no markup costs; the nonprofit pays what the retailer pays. Thousands of Guadalupe Center students have received shoes through the partnership over the years. This summer, 327 students in the Summer Enrichment Program received new shoes.
“I’ve seen kids come in with their shoes held together with tape, shoes that were four sizes too small,” said Snyderman Shoes Manager Becky Joyce, who personally has provided Guadalupe Center students with fittings and shoes for 25 of the 31 years that students have been receiving new shoes. “People don’t realize in Collier County there is such a need, and Snyderman Shoes is a family business rooted here in the community, and supporting our community is what we should do.”
Snyderman Shoes of Naples accepts donations of new children’s shoes at its retail store, 4910 Tamiami Trail North in Naples. Those wanting to help outfit local children and teens with new shoes can do so by visiting LacesOfLove.com; individuals wishing to support educational programs at Guadalupe Center can visit GuadalupeCenter.org.
Dawn Montecalvo is president and CEO at Guadalupe Center, a nonprofit that provides high-quality educational services to more than 1,900 students annually in Immokalee.