By: Nicole Pulcini Mason
On December 20th, I put on a comfortable pair of shoes and prepared for a long day on my feet. It’s been years since I was required to be on my feet all day for work, but today wouldn’t really be a day of work. Yes, I would be officially working, but I’d be doing something I loved: meeting and getting to know the children Kids Central was created to serve. Teens and children living in foster homes, group homes, shelters and with relatives would descend on Payless with the motivation to go home with new shoes. With my fellow colleague, Jennifer, we’d be helping over 80 children and teens take home new shoes before Christmas only possible by the Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids grant.
When the store opened at 10am, we were all ready, including a manager and sales associate. Over 100 children were expected to shop for shoes between 10am and 6pm; however, because of the nature of emergency shelters, the number was not set in stone. The first group consisted of 12 girls all either pregnant or young mothers. Even though most of them had children who couldn’t walk, they gushed over the newborn shoes and desperately wanted to spoil their children. Guided by the common sense and invaluable wisdom accompanied in life skills, their maternal figure steered them toward the more sensible decision to buy shoes for themselves.
Arriving around 11am, 11 youth ranging in age from 10 to 17 years old arrived in a high-energy fashion. Full of life and excitement, they filled the shoe store and took over the aisles. Don’t get me wrong. They weren’t misbehaving. They listened and followed direction; however, their strong personalities took over. Each child received a gift certificate for $20 to shop with. They were instructed to get as close to $20 without going over in order to fully utilize their funds. As Jennifer and I watched child after child approach the counter with a pair of shoes on sale and another item, we leaned in closer to hear that these children had found a way to buy shoes for themselves and a gift for another. They were budgeting in order to afford Christmas presents. It melted our hearts. Here we had children in less than perfect situations thinking of others when they were given the gift to shop for themselves. With the few dollars leftover after his shoes, one young man purchased a nail polish as a gift for the house mother of the home. In all of her years, he was the first child to ever purchase her a Christmas gift. Excitingly, this pattern of shoes and Christmas gifts continued through the entire day.
As part of one of the last group homes, two young men headed straight for the work boots. The younger obviously worshiped the older, hanging onto each of his words. The elder explained the advantages of the waterproof boots and the solid toes. Both found boots they fell in love with and had to put them on before paying for them. Side by side, they happily left wearing their new boots.
By the end of the day, the manager, sales associates, Jennifer and I were exhausted. We all craved a place to sit and some quiet, but we all left with our eyes a little more open and our hearts a little more full.