By MATT RAWLINGS

Of the Keizertimes

It can be easy for people to take things for granted in their life.

The ability to afford quality shoes, for instance, is something that a lot of people wouldn’t even give a second thought to.

Yet for others, clean and usable shoes are seen as a luxury.

Luckily, for those who are less fortunate, there are students at McNary High School that are willing to do something about it.

From February 14 to February 28, McNary will be participating in the seventh annual Shoe Battle of the Schools where schools across the Salem-Keizer area will compete to see who can collect the most shoes — with the goal of giving them to local kids that are in need.

After shoes are collected and counted, the top high school and middle school are presented trophies.

The project is put on by One Thousand Soles, which is a teen-championed shoe drive and distribution organization for homeless youth, children in-need and young athletes living in the Salem-Keizer area. It is coordinated by the City of Salem with campaigns and collections taking place all throughout the year.

One Thousand Soles was created in 2012 — in partnership with the City of Salem’s Youth Development Section — when a classroom of South Salem High School AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) students invited a number of businesses and schools to host shoe collection bins to benefit their peers experiencing homelessness. 

A group of juniors in the AVID class at McNary have taken on the responsibility of collecting shoes for this competition. And for some of these students, this project holds a special meaning.

“I came from a low-income family, so shoes weren’t something we always had,” McNary AVID student Zahvia Stokes said. “Shoes are a necessity, especially for kids living on the streets because they have to walk everywhere and probably can’t afford a bus pass.”

AVID is a non-profit organization that provides professional learning for educators to improve college readiness for all students, especially those traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

McNary’s AVID program is one of the best the state has to offer — they are one of three schools in Oregon that have been recognized as an AVID Schoolwide Site of Distinction. 

Even though this is her first year at the school, it didn’t take long for McNary AVID teacher Heather Zehr to realize that her group of kids are special.

“The best part of the whole program, in my opinion, is the family camaraderie,” Zehr said. “They just have this natural gift of wanting to give back, but they also have this intrinsic ability to just take care of each other on the inside and then take care of the community on the outside, which is awesome for high schoolers.”

“It’s really special to have high school kids with that mindset.”

These AVID students are very intentional about spreading the word around the community. Not only do they make flyers and give presentations at pep assemblies, they will also engage with churches, businesses, nonprofits, local government and the general public to try and spread the word about the competition and encourage people to give.

Students are also in charge of sorting and cleaning the shoes that they receive. It’s a labor of love and something the AVID kids take great pride in.

“The shoe drive gives me a time to help out the community,” McNary AVID student Joe Alvarado said.  “We feel like that the community has given to us, so we’re happy to give back and help people that are in need.”

McNary collected more than 700 pairs during last year’s shoe drive and they hope to expand upon that number this year.

“When kids find out what we do for them, a lot of times they are just overwhelmed with emotion and joy,” Stokes said. “I just get this feeling of joy when that happens. I love helping and I love knowing that I helped provide something for these teenagers who don’t have as much as I do.”

“It’s something that keeps me going.”

If you would like to donate to this cause, there are few different locations where you can drop off pairs of sneakers — it would be preferred if the shoes were clean and have been only used minimally (providing laces and new socks to go along with the shoes would also be appreciated).

The IKE Box Cafe in Salem is the main drop off site for One Thousand Soles. Shoes can also be donated at McNary High School and the City of Salem’s Community Development Department (Third Floor, Room 305 555 Liberty St. SE 97301).

Keizertimes will be accepting shoe donations for the drive as well (142 Chemawa Rd N Keizer, OR 97303).

If you don’t have shoes to give, cash donations are also accepted and encouraged. Make checks payable to City of Salem with “1000 Soles” in the memo.