Gift of shoes helps families, brings smiles

Story by John Iwasaki / Photos by Laura Reinhardt

At one time in their life, Tiffany Lewandowsky and her military husband were doing well financially, so much so that she regularly donated to charitable causes and volunteered at the local food bank.

Makayla, 9, tries on sneakers she chose at a Payless shoe store in Tacoma, Washington.

Makayla, 9, tries on sneakers she chose at a Payless shoe store in Tacoma, Washington.

But after Brian was wounded in Iraq, their steady income dried up.

"Now, I'm in need," Tiffany says with a touch of irony. "I need the services [of organizations] I've given to."

The Lewandowsky's five children all received new shoes recently when World Vision partnered with Payless ShoeSource in the footwear company's Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids program. Payless provided $20 gift cards for World Vision to distribute to 200 low-income children from Tacoma, Washington. All the children are served by World Vision's U.S. Programs.

Some of the kids wore worn-out sneakers. Others had outgrown their shoes.

Dylan, a cheery 1-year-old and the youngest Lewandowsky child, "just started walking, so this came at the perfect time," Tiffany says as she hunted for shoes in a Payless store in Tacoma.

Michelle Griffey (in pink) strokes the forehead of daughter Essence, 10, as they prepare to buy shoes. At left are daughter Jaicin, 17, and son Aryq, 9.

Michelle Griffey (in pink) strokes the forehead of daughter Essence, 10, as they prepare to buy shoes. At left are daughter Jaicin, 17, and son Aryq, 9.

Her oldest child, Alyna, 12, scanned the rows of shoes before choosing pink sneakers for gym class and black flats for a school dance. Examining shoes in other aisles were younger siblings Ethan, 11; Brianna, 6; and Claire, 4.

"We just barely make ends meet each month," says Tiffany. "World Vision gave the kids backpacks [filled with school supplies last year]. Their faces lit up. They thought that somebody cared. It makes a difference."

Other parents at the Payless shoe-shopping event, which was organized by staff at World Vision's field site in Fife, Washington, expressed similar thoughts.

"This is helping out so much," says Michelle Griffey, who brought four of her five children to the store, ranging in age from 9 to 17. "I don’t have the ability to buy them things like I want to. They can benefit—and they can have a smile on their face."

Claire, 4, strolls through a Payless shoe store, trying out the new purple sneakers she would soon receive.

Claire, 4, strolls through a Payless shoe store, trying out the new purple sneakers she would soon receive.

Carla Johnsen picked out shoes for her 4-year-old twins, Aamir and Aarmond. She doubly appreciated the help, she says, because she can't buy just for one son: "For me, it's times two."

The shoe giveaway is "just a really nice gesture," says Erin Glenn, who brought her daughter and son, Makayla, 9, and Avaunte, 6. "Kids get overlooked on some stuff. It's a nice bonus for them."

For Tiffany, the fact that others thought of children in need meant as much as the new shoes themselves.

"It's something like [this] that keeps my faith going," she says.

 

 

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