cover photographer: Christine E. Brege Photography
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.
FDSF’s Mega Fall Distribution in 2023
First Day Shoe Fund just completed their largest distribution ever in the Fall of 2023: over 5,500 kids received brand new athletic shoes at 47 schools!
Helping so many families requires an entire community’s support. We reached out to FDSF’s Executive Director Maggie Hesketh for tips on how to help this organization and learn more about their nonprofit:
In this Article
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.
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 invited to help distribute the shoes so they can see how their donation helps the community.
Gull Meadow Farms Corn Maze
Have you seen the corn maze at Gull Meadow Farms in Richland this year?
FDSF’s mission inspired this fall creation:
How the Process Works: Behind the Scenes at FDSF
Distributing thousands of shoes every fall is a year-round effort for this nonprofit. 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 2005 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 over 50,000 shoes to 47 schools.
FDSF’s Strong Mission
The mission of FDSF is to provide new athletic shoes to elementary students in Kalamazoo county public schools at no cost.
Hesketh says, “FDSF stays true to their mission ensuring that all students are able to attend school in a pair of shoes that keep them confident and comfortable. 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 12 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.
FDSF Changes for 2023
The team at First Day Shoe Fund has been working throughout the past year to ensure that all students who need shoes are able to order them and find just the perfect pair.
Here are some of the ways FDSF is raising the bar for 2023:
1 – Supporting Multilingual Families
FDSF is translating order forms into multiple languages and bringing translators to schools where students speak many different languages.
2 – Adding BILLY Footwear
BILLY Footwear uses zippers that go along the side of the shoes and around the toe, allowing the upper of each shoe to open and fold over completely.
This design supports AFOs and other orthotics wearers, providing comfortable and stylish shoes that they can put on independently.
FDSF has purchased BILLY shoes as an additional option for students in 2023.
3 – Distributing Only Brand Name Athletic Shoes
In addition to the BILLY footwear, First Day Shoe Fund has improved their overall shoe quality for 2023, purchasing only brand name, high quality athletic shoes that students will love and will provide longer durability.
Students can expect to see brands such as Saucony, Adidas and Under Armour among the shoes offered.
4 – Adding a Spring Distribution (Pilot Program)
FDSF recognizes that elementary students grow very quickly and the shoes that they receive in the Fall may not fit for the entire school year.
In 2023, FDSF piloted a Spring distribution in March, distributing shoes at 10 schools. The nonprofit is planning to work with 20 to 25 schools in March 2024.
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:
My kids were absolutely thrilled. I was surprised at the quality of the shoes and that they were name-brand. I’m very thankful!
I lost my job in August and was denied unemployment benefits, so this has been a huge help and blessing in my children being able to have the things they need
A new pair of shoes gives my son so much confidence and pride. It brings a huge smile to his face to have access to a new pair of shoes. Thank you.
Students were thrilled to receive their new shoes! Several of the families that ordered were waiting with anticipation for the shoes to arrive because their child had grown out of and/or worn out the only pair of shoes they had.
The joy and excitement I saw on many of the student faces was priceless. For some students, it was the first new pair of shoes they have ever worn.