With three children of his own, Enrique, 6, Zara, 2, and Sam, 7 months, Prospel, an Ecuadorian who lives in Queens and has volunteered with the program since last year, admits, “Shoes are very expensive.”
For that reason, he added, as he looked over with a grin at the new sandals that his smiling daughter Zara was able to get through coupons provided by the River Fund for new shoes at the Payless Shoesource store in South Richmond Hill on Sunday, programs such as the Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids initiative were a big help to struggling families that the nonprofit helps.
Dozens of families and their children—more than 50, according to Swami Durga Das, executive director of the Richmond Hill-based River Fund—filled the South Richmond Hill store this past Sunday, Jan. 15, as the nonprofit partook in the Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids initiative for the second year in a row.
Every year, the initiative partners with nonprofits across the nation to give away as much as $1.2 million in free shoes to children in need. To do this, shoe coupons are distributed to nonprofits.
The Richmond Hill nonprofit—which received $700 in coupons to help dozens of local children get shoes and footwear last year—more than tripled that amount with $2,100 in coupons they obtained this year from Payless Shoesource.
As Das looked around at the crowded shoe store, where the aisles bustled with excited children and parents helping to pick out shoes for their sons and daughters, he said with a laugh, “Geez, this is crazy.”
All of the families who received shoes were selected by the nonprofit on a case-by-case basis, where they determined which families were most in need of shoes, from which children were able to get either one or several pairs of shoes, sandals, sneakers and other foot apparel.
Andy Ponce, another Queens resident, was on hand with his two sons, Cade, 9, and Connor, 11, who bought sneakers for school with the coupons they received.
“This is a really great program, you really can’t say enough about [the River Fund],” he said.
“There are other programs in the area, and when you go through these areas, it’s unbelievable how many people are in need. And when you look at what [the River Fund] provides—things like this—it is so important.”
Both Cade and Connor have been volunteers in the program since last year. On what they love most about participating in the program, both came to the same conclusion—the joy of helping out.
“I love being able to help other people,” said Connor, who wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.
“You go there and you actually get to see a lot of families that need help which we help,” added Cade, as he admired his box of Converse sneakers which he received from the program.
While acknowledging that he does not exactly struggle financially, Ponce said that the nonprofit has been able to provide vital services for his family in the past which have eased their financial burden.
“Everyone has to do a little something to help out. If it wasn’t for (the River Fund) I’d be…well, I wouldn’t be starving but it would be harder,” he said.
City Councilman Ruben Wills, who was also on hand for the event, commended Das and the River Fund for being able to provide local children with such a basic, but necessary need in shoes. “You look at what they do, and it’s amazing,” he said of the volunteers. “They are more than just a nonprofit, they are an institution for the local community.”
By Jean-Paul Salamanca