Telegram Staff Writer
All they want for Christmas is a pair of shoes.
'It's what students are saying,' said Mary Erwin-Barr, the executive director of Communities in Schools for Bell and Coryell Counties.
Each Christmas, CIS asks the students they serve to submit a holiday wish list. And usually, the top-wanted gifts are toys and video games.
But this year it's different.
'We've got several kids saying all they want is shoes,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said. 'For themselves, for their siblings or for their parents. I think it's because the economy has been so rough this year, and people have been having to choose between food and shoes.'
The simple plea for shoes inspired the student-help group to launch a holiday shoe drive.
'All kids should have good, clean, durable shoes that fit,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said. 'But they don't, and it's sad. So we, as a community, need to step up and meet that need.'
Jeff Orlando, owner of the Schlotzsky's and Wingstop eateries in Killeen, was one of the first people to respond to the CIS project.
'A pair of shoes - that's the most basic thing we put on every morning,' Orlando said. 'And if that's what kids are asking for, well then there's no excuse not to give it to them. It's hardly an imposition.'
To make the shoe wish come true, he rallied all of the Schlotzsky's owners in Bell County and encouraged them to serve as drop-off locations.
'The drive is for schools in Temple, Belton, Salado, Killeen and Copperas Cove,' Orlando said. 'And we've got a Schlotzsky's in each of those cities. So the match was perfect.'
The Temple Schlotzsky's owner, Greg Rhoads, is glad he's part of the project.
'It's part of our goal as a business,' Rhoads said. 'To be involved in the community and help those in need.'
Ms. Erwin-Barr said CIS appreciates the enthusiasm.
'It's a great example of how the community can work together to meet a big goal,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said.
In the last week, the drive has generated about 500 pairs of shoes.
'We want to get a lot more,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said.
Shoes in larger sizes have not been donated.
'Big kids need shoes too, not just elementary students,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said. 'Sometimes the older children get overlooked because the common cut-off age in gift programs is 12.'
In a word of advice to shoe shoppers, Ms. Erwin-Barr said size 8 is considered average for high school girls.
'The boys, they need everything from 9s to 12s,' she said.
The goal is to collect shoes until Tuesday, so that CIS can distribute them to students before they leave for winter break.
'This is going to help so many kids,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said.
She talked about one family with two daughters whose lack of shoes caused a school attendance problem.
'The sisters had just one pair of shoes between them, and they were taking turns going to school,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said. 'One of them had to stay home every other day because they couldn't go to school barefoot.'
CIS discovered the problem on a visit to the girls' home.
'It was an easy problem to fix,' Ms. Erwin-Barr said. 'Now they can both go to school.'
---Did you know?
-- Temple students need new shoes the most, said CIS director Mary Erwin-Barr. 'That's the bunch that struggles most economically. More than 70 percent of them are on free-and-reduced lunch.'