Help needed to meet increasing demand for shoes to kids in need

Foster Feet founder Lauren Anderson (right) helps 4RKids employment supervisor Karen Metcalf load a donation of shoes into a 4RKids van Monday at Central Christian Church. (James Neal / Enid News & Eagle)

A local nonprofit that provides shoes to children in need distributed shoes to several local nonprofits Monday and is seeking support to meet an increase in demand in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Foster Feet got its start when Lauren Anderson, then a freshman at Oklahoma Bible Academy, visited a teacher who had just taken in Savannah, a 5-year-old foster child.

Savannah arrived with only the clothes on her back, a few things in a trash bag and a pair of pink winter boots that were two sizes too small.

From that experience, Lauren determined to collect shoes for children in foster care. She took the project to OBA, where it became the school’s Christmas project in 2015. With the help of Enid Rotary Club, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and individual donations, the student-led project collected 225 pairs of shoes that first year.

Since then, the project has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit, housed at Central Christian Church, that gives out upward of 1,000 pairs of shoes a year.

And the program no longer serves only foster children. Partnerships with local schools, civic groups and nonprofits identify those in need, from toddlers to young adults.

Rachel Harris, CDSA YouthBuild coordinator, was at Central Christian Church Monday to pick up a donation of shoes for the program’s students.

YouthBuild helps 17- to 24-year-old people who have dropped out of high school to complete their diploma, learn job skills and achieve professional certifications through a partnership with Autry Technology Center.

Harris said the simple gift of a new pair of shoes goes a long way to helping the YouthBuild students start a new path in their lives.

“This will be wonderful for them,” Harris said. “Most of our YouthBuild students are low-income, and some of them come in with worn-out shoes with holes in them, and for them to be able to get a new, clean pair of shoes means the world to them.”

Kim Kelly, early childhood program director at CDSA, also was picking up shoes Monday to be distributed through CDSA’s early childhood programs and the diaper bank.

“Through the generous help of Foster Feet, the CDSA Early Childhood Resource Center has given out over 200 pair of shoes to children in our community,” Kelly said. “The shoes are distributed to families during diaper bank visits and during our VIP (Very Important Play) events.”

Shoes also were distributed Monday to 4RKids and Leonardo’s Children’s Museum.

Lauren Anderson, founder of Foster Feet, has long since moved on to college at Oklahoma State University since that first shoe drive at OBA. The college senior is studying communication sciences and disorders, and minoring in American Sign Language.

She hopes to put the same desire to help others that founded Foster Feet into work in her professional life.

Lauren was able to visit Central Christian Church Monday, to help distribute shoes and see firsthand how far the program she founded has come over the last five years.

“It really blows my mind, because I thought it would be one Christmas project, and then done,” Lauren said. “When I started it, I didn’t realize the need all across our community. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s grown so much.”

Her father, Patrick Anderson, said the program likely is to continue growing, and will need more community support, as families recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown.

“We think there’s going to be a huge need this fall, and we’re trying to focus on raising money and collecting shoes for when school starts,” Patrick said. “The need is going to continue, and Foster Feet will continue to provide, as long as God continues to bless us and provide support.”

Donations can be sent to Foster Feet at P.O. Box 262, Enid OK 73702. For more information on Foster Feet, visit their Facebook page or call (580) 233-1214.

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