PASCO -- More than 500 children in Pasco will have new shoes this year thanks to a donation by Pasco First Lutheran Church.
The congregation of about 90 donated new shoes in school-age sizes to the Pasco School District this month after collecting them in September.
John Hergert, pastor of Pasco First Lutheran Church, said it's about the eighth year the congregation has held a shoe drive in September. Members saw that some Pasco children needed shoes and decided it was a need they could fill.
In middle-class families, children tend to get a new pair of shoes when school starts, said Hergert, a Pasco school board member. But that isn't what happens in many Pasco families.
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"We deal with the poorest of the poor," he said.
More than 70 percent of the district's students come from low-income families, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. And at some Pasco schools, that number is more than 90 percent.
Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill recently told Hergert that one Pasco family with five children had three pairs of shoes among them. That meant the children alternated the shoes and those who had the shoes for the day went to school. Now, each child has a pair.
The district's home visitors distribute the shoes. Each school has a home visitor, who helps connect families to services in the community, explained Lana Siemon, district assistant director of student achievement.
Shoes already are being given out and that will continue into the spring, she said. Each building has a process to let home visitors know who needs help.
"We just try to get them on the feet that need them," she said.
Siemon said some children wear hand-me-down shoes that don't fit, jamming their curled up toes inside. "They make do with what they have," she said.
It's a good time of year to get the shoes, Siemon said. The weather is changing and some students still are wearing sandals with socks.
Pasco First Lutheran Church is in downtown Pasco, and Hergert said the congregation feels they are where they are for a reason. Providing shoes for some of the Pasco children who need them is part of their mission.
Next year, Hergert said they plan to add socks to their drive, and have a Christmas tree where members will hang socks instead of ornaments.
Each year, congregation members have continued to give more than their goal.
"They have done a phenomenal job," Siemon said.
Hergert said they don't exactly know who the shoes go to because the names of the families are kept confidential. But they do receive thank you notes from some kids.
Some of the children even draw pictures of their new shoes.
One girl drew a picture of herself smiling and wrote, "I love my new shoes best. Thank you."
Another girl included a "before" drawing of herself in shorts and flip-flops and an "after" drawing wearing her new shoes.
And one boy wrote his appreciation note in Spanish: Thank you for the shoes that someone gave me. They are pretty and I like them a lot, and you've been very good to me.
To donate to the school district, contact Leslee Caul, district public affairs director, at email@example.com or 546-2807.