BEDFORD, CAMBRIA, SOMERSET — “A mom told me that her kids were so touched that individuals they don’t know cared about them and their needs,” said Kara Ketley, Director of United Methodist Human Services. “That’s why we do this.”
Project Shoes has been around since 1992 and has helped thousands of kids in Cambria, Somerset, and Bedford counties. The organization applied for a grant through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies in 2014. It received $2,000.
“Over the last few years, it’s really expanded quickly,” said Ketley. ”We’re not even through December and we’ve passed the $15,000 mark. This time last year we only spent around $10,000.”
The organization serves about 40 schools and the number of children needing shoes is growing. If teachers, case workers, or counselors notice that a child is in need of shoes they will contact Project Shoes. But Ketley said she also reaches out to the schools around three times a year.
“We typically send letters to the schools at the beginning of the year, around the holidays, and again before the end of the year,” said Ketley. “More people are becoming aware of what we do, but the need for it is drastically increasing.”
Ketley said when she started at the organization about three years ago it opened her eyes to something that so many people take for granted.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Ketley. “I’ve had tough times in my life, as many of us have. But I never imagined so many children would be without shoes.”
In most cases, Ketley said, parents have fallen upon difficult times, like losing a job, and the money isn’t available for shoes. One child asked a teacher for duct tape so his feet wouldn’t get wet in the rain. In another case, a child told a teacher he didn’t have shoes to wear because his “mom sold them for medicine.” The organization gives a gift card to the social worker, teacher, principal, or guidance counselor, who then goes and purchases the shoes for the child at Payless ShoeSource.
“We try to send coupons or let them know when there are sales,” said Ketley. “A lot of times the kids are able to get two pairs of shoes and sometimes even socks.”
“100% of the donations raised or grants received go towards providing shoes to these little ones,” she said. “This is an amazing program and we are so grateful to help those who need it.”
Ketley recently received a letter from an area student thanking them for giving him a pair of winter boots, something he never had.
“It’s sad — something so many of us take for granted. There’s a real need for families who are struggling.”
In 2014, 450 gift cards were handed out. This year it’s closer to 500.
“More than $5,000 was spent just in November and part of December,” said Ketley. “There are a lot of kids who have families who have hit hard times.”
Ketley said Project Shoes plans to apply for another grant through the Foundation since it has been a help. But, more importantly, she hopes by sharing this story it will inspire others to give and make a difference in a child’s life.
“How can a child be engaged in learning when they don’t have the proper basic needs— food, clothing, and shelter?”
Of the three counties that United Methodist Human Services serves, Cambria has the most requests for shoes for children in need.
“The Foundation accepts grant applications twice annually — the last Friday in January and the last Friday in August. Any organization that serves Bedford, Cambria, Somerset, and/or Indiana counties and is IRS designated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, a religious entity, or a governmental entity is eligible to apply,” said Angie Berzonski, Program & Communications Officer. “Our grant rounds are very competitive, as the requests that we receive always far outweigh the amount that we have available for distribution. So we encourage applicants to submit proposals for scalable projects where we might be able to cover a portion of the total project. We also ask that they clearly explain the need, the intended outcomes, their other funding sources for the project, and how they will measure its success.”
To read more about Project Shoes click on need.