Trash bags filled with a rainbow of second-hand shoes have piled high in the halls of Meadowlark Elementary as they sit waiting for a new purpose.
The 37-member Kindness and Caring club, under the careful watch of fourth-grade teacher Amy Leffler, has been collecting shoes to send to developing countries since Thanksgiving.
Leffler’s room was filled with activity Thursday afternoon as fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders worked together to sort shoes instead of going out for recess.
They also spent some time trying on the shoes and goofing off with friends.
Gabe Beltran, 9, and his classmate Nate O’Neil, 10, wasted no time trying on a pair of shoes they had been waiting to try on all day — a genuine pair of moon boots.
Each student tried on one.
“Every time you lift them up, they float up,” Gabe said.
“There’s a lot of cool shoes around here,” said 11-year-old Halle Sampson, as she took notice of a bejeweled pair of pink low-tops.
“I feel good that my school is doing this,” she said.
She said it is especially satisfying that her old shoes are going to be given a new life when they are delivered to people in countries far from Billings.
The shoes will be donated to an organization called Funds2Orgs, which pays 40 cents for every pound of shoes collected.
Funds2Orgs sells the shoes to vendors in countries such as Haiti and Uganda at a slight mark-up, and the vendors sell them at local markets.
The organization also helps vendors develop business plans, in the hopes that they can become self-sufficient.
The goal is to collect 25,000 pairs of shoes by Valentine’s Day, which will net the school $10,000, said Leffler.
“Last I counted, we had 1,250 pairs,” she said.
The school will purchase math games with some of the money, and donate the rest to nonprofits that Kindness and Caring Club members pick out.
Students have been excited about the idea, Leffler said.
“They have taken such ownership,” she said. “They just love it.”
Shoe collection bins have popped up in the shoe department of Scheels, a Century 21 office, a West End First Interstate Bank and at the Center for Children and Families.
It has also given Leffler the chance to meet students that she’s never taught but has seen in the halls for their whole elementary career.
“It’s been nice to connect with kids outside of academics, she said.
The time that she’s gotten to spend with students outside class has been invaluable in helping them perform better in class, she said.
“If you got to hang out with your teacher and drink pop and bag shoes,” she said, “you might listen to your teacher more.”