First Day Shoe Fund Ensures Equal Footing for Every Child in Kalamazoo County
Lacing up a new pair of shoes is quite the back-to-school treat. Remember how fast you felt as a kid, pulling on those new sneakers?
You could jump higher, and run further, with the confidence to tackle any obstacle on the playground or in the classroom because of your new kicks.
We think every child deserves that start-of-the-school-year boost regardless of their financial status.
For elementary students attending public schools in Kalamazoo County, an organization called First Day Shoe Fund, or FDSF, ensures that kids from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade can start their school year with a new pair of athletic shoes.
How Do I Request Shoes for My Child?
On the first day of school, public elementary students of Kalamazoo County will bring home a flier with an order form and QR code from their teachers.
Families can complete and return the flier or they can scan the QR code to fill out a Google Form. The QR code allows orders to be submitted and processed quickly.
Can’t find the flier? Check your school’s social media pages, newsletters, district-wide communication systems and back-to-school events. You can also online using the link below.
With this flier or code, any family who needs shoes for their pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students can order shoes. Online ordering will be open from August 22 through September 9, 2022.
How the Process Works: Behind the Scenes at FDSF
Distributing thousands of shoes every fall is a year-round effort for this nonprofit. Executive Director Maggie Hesketh gave us the scoop on how their distribution works, the history of FDSF, and the team that supports their efforts:
Shoe Distribution is No Small “Feet”
Once the orders are in, FDSF begins processing the thousands of orders they received. FDSF buys new athletic shoes from multiple online retailers during the year.
Maggie Hesketh wants to “ensure that we have lots of different styles and colors of shoes; this is important so that we don’t end up with students in the same class with matching shoes.”
Once the shoes arrive, large groups of volunteers head to FDSF’s building in Portage to pack up all the shoes by class, grade and school. Shoe deliveries start at the end of September, thanks to the help of Two Men and a Truck.
Volunteers are essential to FDSF. Hesketh shares, “With a small staff, volunteers are incredibly important to our organization.”
How First Day Shoe Fund Began
First Day Shoe Fund began in 2004 when Valerie Denghel, a volunteer for Kalamazoo Public Schools, noticed students wearing shoes that were tattered, broken or ill-fitting. Children were even wearing sandals in the snow and Denghel knew she needed to help. She saw the students needed shoes and she started buying them.
As the need for shoes in the schools grew, so did First Day Shoe Fund. Denghel incorporated FDSF as a non-profit in 2006 by providing new athletic shoes to Kalamazoo Public Schools students in kindergarten through second grade.
Over time, FDSF expanded and now serves all public school students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in every school district in Kalamazoo County.
Since 2006, FDSF has donated 45,621 shoes to 46 schools.
FDSF’s Strong Mission
The mission of FDSF is to provide athletic shoes to elementary students in need in Kalamazoo County public schools.
Hesketh says, “First Day Shoe Fund stays true to our mission, ensuring that all students are able to start school on equal footing. First Day Shoe Fund is a place and an organization that represents love, hope and the joy of jumping in a new pair of shoes.”
Every year, the need for shoes has grown. In 2020, FDSF pivoted and offered shoes through a drive-through event at Wing Event Center during the pandemic.
“It doesn’t look like the need for shoes will reduce, especially with high inflation and other costs increasing for families preparing their students to return to school. Even after all these years, we are still the only organization that distributes new shoes to students in need,” Hesketh says.
First Day Shoe Fund’s Team is Small But Mighty
Maggie Hesketh is the full-time executive director of FDSF and recently added a part-time Program Coordinator. FDSF has a board of 13 members who are all deeply involved in Kalamazoo County.
There are 5 working committees that run Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, Programming and Fund Development. These moving parts meet monthly with Hesketh to plan and carry out the work of FDSF.
It takes a village to get the new shoes to the students of Kalamazoo County. Fundraising, buying shoes, taking orders and distributing the shoes is a year-long process but every fall the hard work of those involved with FDSF pays off when new shoes are placed on kids’ feet.
How You Can Help First Day Shoe Fund
FDSF relies on volunteers, donations and sponsors to help get new athletic shoes to the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students of Kalamazoo County. Here are three ways to get involved:
1 – Volunteer
Volunteers for FDSF are needed year-round and there are a variety of ways you can help. You can help unpack and inventory shoes or pack up orders for distribution.
If you’d like to get involved with the distribution events, you can help students try on their new shoes and get to experience their excitement!
To learn more about volunteer opportunities, sign up for FDSF’s newsletter; you’ll find a signup box at the bottom of their homepage.
2- Make a Donation
As a nonprofit, First Day Shoe Fund is always in need of donations. Here are some options to help:
(1) Send New Shoes
Did you find the cutest new pair of athletic shoes that you’re itching to donate to FDSF? They would love to accept your donation. FDSF will coordinate a pickup or drop-off. You can contact FDSF through their website or email Maggie.
(2) Donate Money Online
Monetary donations are also helpful because FDSF has a lot of feet to buy shoes for. You can donate through their website or send them a check or money order. All donations are tax-deductible.
(3) Manage Your Own Fundraiser
You can create a fundraiser on Facebook and FDSF has ready-to-use content you can upload to your newsfeed. They have also seen friendly competitions at workplaces to raise money or donations such as “Casual For A Cause.” Do you have another idea to fundraise for FDSF? Reach out to them with your idea.
(4) Give Using AmazonSmile
Sponsoring businesses and organizations are recognized in FDSF’s newsletter, social media and during distribution. Hesketh adds, “We are truly appreciative of our community members who continue to support FDSF.”
If you’re an Amazon shopper, AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchase. Simply click select when you search for First Day Shoe Fund through AmazonSmile.
3- Become a Sponsor
FDSF encourages local businesses and organizations to become a sponsor to help increase their footprint in the community.
Hesketh is proud of the support from the community, “We love to receive donations from individuals as well as, in recent years, we have seen more contributions from local businesses and organizations. We have a corporate sponsorship program where local businesses sponsor a particular school and their donation helps to cover the cost of shoes distributed at that school.”
$500: provides shoes for a classroom
$1,500: sponsors a small school (approx 100 students)
$2,500: provides shoes for around 200 students.
Volunteers from the sponsoring businesses are able to help distribute the shoes so they can see how their donation helps.
The testimonials from the families and school staff show how life-changing the new athletic shoes are for the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students:
“It’s been great having this sense of security for my children. It has been a rough time for everyone and to know that I will not have to worry about one more expense and that their feet will be warm and clean is really great.”
“The beginning of the school year was a REALLY rough time, financially, for us. We had some unexpected things happen in our lives that we were not prepared for. Having our son be able to have tennis shoes that fit him properly helped us prepare him for days he had gym class and also help him feel more confident when surrounded by other kids who were prepared.”
“Students who receive the new pairs of shoes are SUPER excited to try them on when they arrive and it is so heartwarming to see their faces light up when the shoes fit… most of the time, they don’t even want to take them off once we’ve determined they fit! Our students and families are so blessed that the FDSF program provides new shoes to those in need.”
“The shoes help our students feel more confident. They love showing us how fast they can run during PE or at recess. They also love showing the shoes to their friends and for some, it is the first time they have ever worn brand new shoes that fit. Students saw how good their feet feel, which allows them to concentrate on school instead of the pain in their feet.”
FDSF values its volunteers and partners. For more information on helping this nonprofit, visit their website or email Maggie directly.