TAMPA, Fla. — Nearly 40 children at a Title I elementary school in Tampa are now able to walk into class with a new pair of shoes. This is all thanks to one hardworking volunteer and several neighbors.
While starting off your child’s school year with a new pair of shoes may be the norm for some families, hundreds of children across the Tampa Bay area don’t have that option.
Sharlene Hartford was volunteering in Robles Park when she learned more than a dozen children at Broward Elementary School in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood could not afford new tennis shoes. Most are outfitted in slides or sandals at school.
That prohibits them from being able to play sports or participate in other activities that require closed-toe shoes or sneakers, Hartford said.
She also learned it was educators who try every year to ensure those kids do not go without.
"The teachers, God bless their hearts,” Hartford said. “They try to put together some money and get those kids shoes."
She decided to step in and work to get new tennis shoes donated to the kids at Broward Elementary. While normally teachers say there are about 20 children at the school in need, this year, there were nearly 40.
Hartford created a poster board covered in post-it notes with the initials, shoe size and gender of the child in need. One by one, surrounding neighbors chose a student to sponsor.
Most of the new shoes cost between $25 and $50 a pair. Hartford was awestruck by the outpouring of support for these students.
“The response was overwhelming,” she said. “I could not believe it."
Hartford was able to deliver 39 pairs of new shoes to Broward Elementary earlier this week. When all of the kids in need were claimed, another person stepped forward and bought new socks for the children. Those were donated as well.
Teachers at Broward were able to distribute the shoes at school the next morning so kids could wear them proudly.
Now, Hartford has started her own organization she’s calling Soles4LilSouls to help Broward kids in need receive shoes in years to come.