It was Christmas in January at Payless ShoeSource in Aiken Monday as the store and Children's Place Inc. teamed to distribute 100 free pairs of new shoes to children served by the organization.
An excited Destiny Harkins picked out a pair of sparkly pink Disney Princess shoes that were decorated with bows and hearts.
“They look great and they're pretty,” said the 5-year-old, who lives in Warrenville. “I want mommy to hold me. I don't want to get them dirty.”
Destiny's mother, Crystal Harkins, appreciated the opportunity to get her daughter and 2-year-old son, A.J., each a new pair of shoes for free.
“It's wonderful,” said Harkins, who is a grocery store cashier. “I'm a single parent, and anything for the kids is a big help.”
Children's Place works with families to decrease abuse and neglect of children, increase stability in families and improve children's readiness for school. Each year, 160 children and their families receive daily services from the organization, which is a United Way of Aiken County agency.
The Payless Gives Shoes 4 Kids program provided the free shoes. The program has distributed more than $1 million in new shoes to children in need through Children's Place and its other nonprofit partners. Payless, which launched the program in December 2008, works to identify organizations across the United States that can benefit from receiving new shoes.
“It's important for the children to be able to get something new and be able to pick it out on their own because, most of the time, they don't get to pick it out,” said Kelly Findley, community outreach coordinator for Children's Place. “When we get donations, they have to take whatever we get. But today, they get to pick out what they want. That's what is so special about it.”
Michael Kub, a mechanic for a construction company, brought five of his six children to Payless Shoes.
“Times are tough and just anything helps,” said the Bath resident. “With six children, it's hard to pay for shoes all at once for everybody.”
Kub selected a practical black pair of Mary Janes for his 6-year-old daughter, Lexi. But she didn't want them, preferring to take home a pair of Disney Princess tennis shoes in a bright pink box instead.
“They light up on the sides,” she said, explaining her choice.
“I've never gotten to see this many new shoes like this before,” Lexi added, gazing wide-eyed down a long aisle lined with boxes.
“And they smell good, not like feet,” said Lexi's 10-year-old sister, Nadia.
Tiffany Phillips of Warrenville and her partner, Vicky Whittle, work at separate Subway shops in Augusta. They head a household of three adults and nine children, who range in age from 6 to 16. All nine children attended the event at Payless and picked out new pairs of shoes.
“This helps out,” Phillips said. “We spend the majority of our money on bills, toilet paper, washing powder and stuff like that. Before we get new shoes, they really have to be worn down.”
Jamye Bailey, Whittle's 13-year-old daughter, chose a pair of plaid high-top Airwalk tennis shoes, she said, “because I think they're cool.”
The shoes were just like the pair that her sister, 14-year-old Brittany Bailey, selected.
“With nine children in the house, the money goes to essentials and you learn how to make things last,” Brittany said.
Kelly Cheek, clinical director of Children's Place's day treatment program, helped the children and their parents choose shoes and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“It's super fun,” she said. “I love getting to work with parents and kids. And it's always fun when you get to give stuff away. Most of the children really like it.”
For more information on Children's Place or to make a donation, call Findley at 803-641-4145 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.