On July 24 at the Pechanga Theater, 54 foster children from Rancho Damacitas and the Koinonia programs in Temecula received free brand-name athletic shoes from the Shoes That Fit organization and Pechanga Casino & Resort. Angels pitcher, aptly-named Matt Shoemaker, distributed the shoes personally to each of the children. Pechanga also treated the foster children and foster families to their all-you-can-eat buffet.
“This is pretty exciting,” said Atheeniss, age 11, “It really helps us who have been through a lot.” She has been in the Rancho Damacitas program for three years, and says, “It’s just like family to me.” She was excited about her new light turquoise running shoes.
“It’s a fresh new start for my feet,” said Tyriel, age 12 as she proudly displayed her new shoes, “It’s pretty cool and makes a lot us happy to know that someone cares enough to do something like this for us.”
Tyriel had been in four group homes before coming to Rancho Damacitas.
“New shoes are a big deal to these foster kids,” said Kristi Piatkowski, Director of Development for Rancho Damacitas. “Many come from a background of years of neglect and abuse; some come to us with just the clothes on their backs and most are wearing hand-me-downs. Many don’t know their sizes.”
“The opportunity to get new shoes, free food and meet a professional baseball player is exciting and we gave the kids the chance to earn the right to be here,” said Sarah Urquidi, a fill-in foster parent who has been working with children at Rancho Damacitas for four years. “The kids earned points working toward their treatment plans; 90 percent of our kids earned the right to be here.”
“Getting something new and something that fits really contributes to their confidence and self-esteem,” said Hall. “You can see a change in their demeanor, especially since school is so stressful. They are often the “new kid” and that confidence, self-esteem and acceptance is so important at their ages.”
“We want to give kids the tools that they need to play and thrive,” said Nekeda Newell-Hall, Director of Corporate Engagement for the nonprofit Shoes That Fit organization. “Many kids have never had new shoes or even shoes that fit. Correctly fit shoes give kids the confidence to participate in learning, sports and activities. Fit is important to avoid physical and postural problems; even used shoes are already molded to someone else’s feet.”
Shoes That Fit – named a California Nonprofit of the Year — has donated shoes to 100,000 children in 2,000 schools in 46 states. “There are 16 million kids in poverty in the U.S.. We hope to double our total each year,” said Hall,” and we rely on corporate partners – like Pechanga – to provide us with the funding to buy the shoes.” The organization does not yet have a major shoe manufacturer as a partner and purchases the shoes for the kids from Rack Room, Nordstrom’s, some wholesalers and even at retail stores. Private donors also provide the shoes.
For more information or to donate, contact Executive Director Amy Fass at [email protected], or call (909) 482-0050.
“When you see the look in these kids’ faces and you hear about their lives, it makes you want to do whatever you can to help,” said Shoemaker. “One kid was so excited, he took off his shoes right away and put on the new ones up here on the stage. I’m happy to do this.”
Shoemaker and teammate, JC Ramirez, participated in a free meet-and-greet and signing event with the public later that evening in the Pechanga Theater.