The Samaritan’s Feet organization has donated 175 pairs of athletic shoes for a “shoe locker” at Grand Forks Public Schools.

The shoes will be distributed, on an as-needed basis, to boys and girls in the preschool through high school level, according to Denise Blomberg, the organization’s regional director of operations, Sioux Falls, S.D., who made the presentation Monday, Aug. 23, at the school district’s headquarters.

Samaritan’s Feet has helped more than 2,000 Grand Forks children through this effort over the past several years, said Blomberg.

Samaritan’s Feet also distributed shoes for kids as part of a school supply distribution event Monday at the Salvation Army’s headquarters in Grand Forks, she said.

The shoe donation for Grand Forks public school students is also made possible by the contribution of funds and shoes from members of the North Dakota Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

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The NDFCCLA, with 64 high school chapters, raised more than $3,000 for this project from January through April, according to Kearyn Nelson, a UND freshman and a former NDFCCLA board member from Leeds, N.D., who spearheaded the fundraising project, along with Logan Blankenbaker, past state FCCLA president, from Bowman, N.D. They and Ann Dietchman, state FCCLA advisor, attended Monday’s presentation.

“This is going to make a world of difference for loads of kids,” said Pam Elmquist, social worker at Century Elementary School. "It's been great to see this program grow."

But providing new shoes to kids who need them provides much more than a practical benefit, she said.

“It’s a gift for a kid who doesn’t have shoes that he’s happy to wear,” said Elmquist, one of 14 social workers in the Grand Forks school system. “It means the world to kids and their families. And it forges relationships between us and shows that we care about them and care about their needs.

“(As social workers) we get to be the bridge -- that’s what changes lives,” she said. “It’s the beginning of beautiful things, and we are honored to be part of it.”

Establishing the Shoe Locker at the school district office is a way for schools to provide new athletic shoes to students as the need arises, Blomberg said.

School social workers will identify students who have improperly fitting or worn shoes and replace those shoes with a new pair from the Shoe Locker at the school district’s main office.

Each pair of shoes are contained in an orange drawstring “Hope Tote,” with a hygiene kit and a “hope note,” Blomberg said.

Shoe Lockers were established by Samaritan’s Feet, a humanitarian aid organization, to address the growing needs of Americans in poverty. The organization’s mission is “to create a world with zero shoeless children,” Blomberg said.

Since its founding by Manny and Tracie Ohonme in 2003, Samaritan’s Fee and its partners have served more than 8.3 million people in 180 nations and 450 U.S. cities.

In past years, Samaritan’s Feet have also annually distributed new shoes. At the most recent event, in November 2019, volunteers washed students’ feet before presenting them with shoes, Blomberg said. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, foot-washing was disallowed, and the plan to initiate Shoe Lockers emerged, she said.