Soles for Christ accepting donations

Jun. 1—Community members can help make a difference in a kids life with just one pair of shoes.

Soles for Christ is a program designed for school-aged children from preschool to 12th grade. The program, sponsored by the AFL-CIO Community Services, accepts donations of new shoes or monetary funds. On Aug. 12 and 13, children and their families can line up at the Scottish Rite building to receive a pair of new tennis shoes at no cost. Plus, the event is scheduled purposely a few weeks before school to ensure students can show up on the first day with their shoes still looking fresh.

Nichi Seckinger, executive director for the AFL-CIO, said there are not any income guidelines for those who receive shoes.

In years past, the Soles for Christ program served about 1,000 to 1,200 kids with families wrapped around their building just to get a pair. It originally started outside of St. Joseph as a church mission.

"And they liked it so much that they came back and wanted to do something similar to it," Seckinger said.

From there, the AFL-CIO decided to help, bringing more manpower and storage for the program. Now, it has been thriving for 22 years.

Seckinger said there are two reasons for the program.

"One is to save parents the money around the time of the beginning of the school year," she said, understanding that the beginning of the academic year can be costly for families. "But it's also for kids for a self-esteem boost too."

With students needing new clothes, sports gear and more, this program lifts one responsibility off of parents' shoulders.

"There are a lot of children that start off the year with nothing new," she said.

After seeing their peers with new clothing, shoes and more, it can be hard on the child's self-esteem. With Soles for Christ, it allows those children to have something to be proud of.

"It also allows them to participate in gym class, which is a requirement. If they don't have tennis shoes, their grade can actually be docked for not being able to participate," said Seckinger.

She said some kids really light up over seeing new shoes in a box.

"Nobody really expected it to quite have the impact it has. And so to see how kids will react to getting these shoes is just really fantastic," she said.

Seckinger has seen kids get so excited about people asking them to take pictures with their new shoes. They'll put on a big smile and hold the shoes up so everyone can see.

If they happen to run out of a certain size during the event, AFL-CIO will go out and purchase that particular size. About a week later, they'll ensure that the child receives their free pair of shoes.

Soles for Christ serves children who live in Buchanan, Andrew, Clinton, Dekalb or Donovan counties. Shoes can be donated anytime to the AFL-CIO office or at local churches that are partners of the program.

For cash donations, call or visit the AFL-CIO website and specify that you want it to go to the Soles for Christ program. Volunteering is also a big help.

"It takes about 140 volunteers each year," Seckinger said. To get involved, call the AFL-CIO or send them a message online. "We have jobs that suit all the different areas."