The Rotary Club’s “Happy Feet” program keeps growing as the service organization provides more free footwear for Cody youngsters each year.
What began with the group giving away about 25 pairs of tennis shoes in 2014 thus far this school year has expanded to a donation of 186 pairs of shoes, each accompanied by two pairs of socks, 86 pairs of snow boots, and more than four dozen pairs of gloves.
“To basically anyone in need,” said Amanda Stevens, chair of the Rotary Club’s program committee.
Noting that 30 percent of the children in the area are on free and reduced lunch programs, Rotary sends a letter at the beginning of each school year to counselors, to pass the word that help is available to shod elementary and middle school students.
Gifts are made anonymously and there is no cost to a student or family. Orders are received through counselors and the materials are presented in privacy at the schools.
Money for the program comes from the Paul Stock Foundation, the Rotary Foundation and an earmarked account within the local Rotary club, Stevens said.
Stevens and Jake Fulkerson, now a county commissioner, came up with the idea five years ago and Rotary has enlisted local business partners to aid in providing the foot gear.
Sunlight Sports and Walmart are major participants.
Originally, the program was about issuing tennis shoes. Then, Stevens said, people realized youngsters who could not afford tennis shoes might not be able to afford winter boots either.
Stevens said she learned through her own children that if kids did not have winter shoes they could not participate fully in recess and “that would isolate them” from others in their class.
Sunset School specifically took note of a need for gloves, as well, Stevens said, and 50 pairs were donated to the school, making for happy fingers as companions to happy feet.
This year, notice was sent to Meeteetse Schools to be included, and Stevens said pending the receipt of grant money Rotary plans to expand the program to preschoolers.
While most requests are advanced at the start of the school year, the program is ongoing throughout the school year.
“It is happening right now,” said Greg Pendley, another Rotarian.
Counselors pass out forms to parents or guardians to obtain a child’s name and shoe size, then the forms are returned to Rotary.
The next step is “just go shopping,” Stevens said. Sometimes she is the designated buyer.
“It’s a really great program,” Stevens said.