Charity for the 'sole': Kids get new 'kicks'

Students receive free shoes, uniforms as they prepare for back to school

Ashley Montgomery | 8/14/2014, 9 a.m.
It wasn’t your typical back-to-school giveaway. Backpacks, pens and notebooks were out. This back to school was all about the ...
Students were fitted for their new shoes during a unique back-to-school giveaway.

It wasn’t your typical back-to-school giveaway. Backpacks, pens and notebooks were out. This back to school was all about the shoes. It was a charity for the “soles.”

About 25 elementary school students in Miami Gardens received help Wednesday as they were given new footwear and free vouchers to purchase two new school uniforms as they head back to school next week.

The students smiled and laughed as they were fitted with new shoes still packed in boxes. A group of

volunteers helped the students find their correct sizes.

The event was held at Norway Elementary School in Miami Gardens, but students from Norland Elementary School and Henry E.S. Reeves Elementary also attended the giveaway.

This was one of several shoe giveaways sponsored by the Shoes 4 Your Sole Foundation, a 2-year-old organization founded by Dwayne Bennett Sr., 41. An Overtown native who once enjoyed the hard life on Miami’s gritty streets, Bennett turned his life around before he established the foundation in 2012.

The organization had similar giveaways for residents in Homestead, Naranja and Richmond Heights last week.

Bennett purchases the shoes for the giveaways with his own money. Several local businesses have pitched in, but he hopes more donors will come forward to help keep the charity going. The foundation aims to reduce student absenteeism in the first few weeks of school, where many students from low-income families miss class to avoid being ridiculed by their fashion-conscious peers.

As school bells prepare to ring in the new academic year, educators say the first few weeks of school are critical as students seek to build their image to make new friends and social groups. “I had a lot of friends in school who had duct tape around their shoes,” said Bennett. “I remember picking at those kids.”

“This is not just a foundation, this is a ministry,” said Lavard Clemens, the group’s vice-president.

The shoes were mainly casual and athletic footwear, but they provided financial relief for parents who are struggling to purchase clothes for their children to wear as the new school year begins. Although the shoes weren’t name brand, at least they were a start.

“Everyone is giving away book bags,” said Bennett. “I wanted to do something different.”