When Milena Skollar handed a box of new shoes to a disadvantaged elementary school student, she was surprised at the little girl’s overjoyed response. “She opened it up in awe, as though I had just given her something precious,” recalls Skollar, a social worker in the Marietta school system. “She immediately took off her old shoes—theykids-shoes had holes on the bottom—and put on the new pair right there in the parking lot. Then she looked at us and said, ‘I am never taking these off!’ ”

Far too many children in Cobb County make do with hand-me-downs and never go to school with a new pair of clean, well-fitting shoes. But by donating gift cards from Walmart or Payless Shoes to Simple Needs GA’s “Shoe Them Love” program, you can give disadvantaged kids the uplifting experience of having new shoes of their own. Just a $25 gift card, in fact, will pay for shoes for a needy child.

When most of us think of the plight of the poor, we imagine what it would be like to be without food or to live in a car or a shelter. But Kristin Hanfland, a Marietta City Schools social worker, says new shoes are among those simple needs that struggling families often must do without. This is particularly true when they have suffered hardships such as losing a job or being made homeless as a result of an eviction or a fire.

“When families experience these hard times, the ‘extras’—shoes being one—often get put aside,” Hanfland says. “When the choice is, ‘Am I going to pay my rent/utilities or can I get my child a new pair of shoes?’ the immediate needs get prioritized. It’s not that these families don’t care that their children’s shoes are too small or have holes; they simply have to focus on keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table.”

Donating to Shoe Them Love can therefore help to ease the burdens of struggling parents. “It means they don’t have to feel badly for not being able to provide those ‘extras,’ ” Hanfland said.

New shoes also happen to make kids happy and boost their self-esteem. “In a perfect world, kids wouldn’t be judged on what they wear to school, but we know that is simply not always the case,” Hanfland explains. “Kids notice differences; they notice the kids whose shoes have holes; they notice the kids whose shoes are too dirty, too big, or too small.”

And as social workers see firsthand, the positive effects on the child’s mood can seem much larger than the gift itself. “It really can make a huge impact on a child,” Hanfland said. “Besides, it’s just fun! There’s nothing like a brand new, never-been-scuffed-up pair of shoes. How awesome it is to open a box, pull back the paper, and slide into a pair of shoes that are all yours! Brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.”

Hanfland and her colleagues will be working to identify kids who could benefit from Shoe Them Love during the 2013-2014 school year, which begins Aug. 7. Please consider buying $25 gift cards to Payless or Walmart and mailing them to:

Simple Needs GA, P.O. Box 670265, Marietta, GA 30066. You can also make a direct donation via Paypal at SimpleNeeedsGA.org. For more information, call 678-266-3344 or email info@SimpleNeedsGA.org

Thanks for your support of people in need!

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