The kids in McKinley Elementary’s cross-country club gathered on the blacktop, running shoes tied tight, ready to take a jog around the neighborhood Friday morning.
The shoes are important. Elementary school students wear all kinds of shoes — big, blocky basketball shoes, barely there flats, slip-ons, Chuck Taylors. But not all of them have running shoes, and it can be hard to jog a mile in a pair of flats.
“They could, it’s just not good for them,” said volunteer coach Ceci Bentler.
So parents at the school got together and went through their closets. Some of them had older children who had outgrown a perfectly good pair of running shoes and they offered them to the club.
Pretty soon, the school had a full-blown shoe drive on its hands, with families and neighbors offering their children’s outgrown shoes. For the students who needed them, it was a welcome offering.
McKinley has a diverse student body, with kids coming from shelters and downtown motels and 100-year-old restored manses up the hill.
Getting running shoes to everyone who needs a pair — and making sure kids are aware those shoes are available so that they’ll feel they can join the club — has been an important, but delicate task.
In an effort not to single anyone out, club organizers have talked up the shoes to all the kids, explaining that running shoes, like football pads or shin guards, are a necessary piece of equipment to participate in the sport of distance running.
When they join a team, they get the equipment they need.
“It’s sports equipment,” Bentler said. “It’s gotten to be so big, it’s become a non-issue.”
And ultimately, that was the goal — to get as many kids running as they could.
“They are so talented and eager,” Bentler said.
Sarah Brown’s two children run in the club. Providing shoes to any kid who might need them or want them is vital, she said.
The high cost of participating in many sports often excludes students with the talent or desire to participate who would otherwise play or run if they could. They need the chance, Brown said.
“I feel really strongly about it.”
It’s why she loves running and making sure students get the chance to do it.
“I think it’s a huge gift to give these kids,” she said. “A sport they can do just walking out their back door.”
They don’t need a team; they don’t need helmets or pads or rackets or gloves. They just need shoes and the road or an open park, she said.
Running also gives the kids a kind of alone time that really doesn’t come from anything else. They take off on a jog and they’re on their own, a solitary escape for a few moments from the world around them, she said.
“They need that,” she said.
The club is still looking for shoes, specifically children’s sizes 3 to 6. Bentler has set up a collection box at the downtown YMCA and hopes to gather in what they need.
“It’s an organic effort of getting hand-me-down shoes to kids,” she said.