Some things you just have to do.
So even though I was midway through a seasonal spaz-out over holiday cards and shopping and decorating and dealing with the added difficulty level of two impending birthdays and a tricky Saturday carpooling situation for a Lego robotics competition when I saw the email plea for help, I couldn’t resist.
“Could use some volunteers tomorrow … ” was the subject line.
Educational Enrichment Foundation Executive Director Pamela Francis email bombed her contact list in a last-ditch effort to round up enough helpers for its Thursday Shoe Shopping Party at the Payless ShoeSource at East Broadway and Wilmot Road.
Three times a year EEF — a nonprofit supporting students and teachers in Tucson Unified School District — throws these parties to help TUSD’s neediest kids. As you might imagine, the one around the holidays tends to be the busiest. This year, about 265 kids will sport fancy new shoes, plus they also scored new socks, a book and a cookie to munch, post shopping.
Up to four kids from a school can apply to be part of the event — this one sponsored by the Rincon Optimist Club and Citi — but you can imagine what happens, a social worker will hear last minute about another kid or a student will have younger siblings at home. So, EEF finds extra money to help whoever needs it.
Some things you just have to do.
I reread the email and checked my calendar. Clear. I offered my services, after all, I do have extensive expertise in the area.
“I promise you, if it isn’t the most fun you have this whole week, I’ll take your place in the kid carpool!” a confident Pam wrote back.
Even before the official 9 a.m. start time, kids were streaming through the doors. My first shopping buddy was a shy first-grader, Raegan, size 4, who knew what she wanted. And it wasn’t the gray ballet flats I offered her.
“How about these! They light up!” I said excitedly, showing her white sneakers with “Frozen” characters. She gamely put them on.
“How do they feel?”
She shook her head.
“OK,” I looked at the shelf. “What’s your favorite color?”
“Maybe these,” I said, pulling the paper out of a pair of spiffy pink KangaRoos with purple laces.
She shook her head. We went through Minnie Mouse high tops, a glittery pair of pink sneakers, Disney princess shoes and two other pairs of light-up tennies.
“She’s really picky,” her third-grade brother Jackson called out.
I was thinking about how Pam just might have to drive my kids around after all when Raegan found THE PAIR. Gray boots, lined with soft, fuzzy fluff and covered in silvery snowflakes.
As Heather Martin, school community liaison for Ford Elementary School, shepherded Raegan, Jackson and her two other charges through the checkout line, she talked about how great the need is at her east-side school.
“We have a lot of refugees,” said Martin, who’s been bringing kids to shoe shop for about five years.
Every year, the first thing the kids do when they get in the car and head back to school is pull on their new shoes.
“This is a great thing,” she said. “The kids love it.”
It’s also Jennifer Citron’s favorite event.
“So much of what we do is behind the scenes,” said Citron, EEF’s program coordinator. “Here, EEF gets to see the impact of what we do, the kids’ smiles. The experience of shopping and picking out their own shoes — so many of them don’t get to do that.”
Ben, a third-grader from Sewell Elementary, showed me the worn spots on his green-and-black sneakers.
“I’ve had these a really long time,” he said.
We picked out a sharp-looking pair of black Champion sneaks with flashes of red. I encouraged him to run down the aisle to see how they feel.
“This kid Aiden is the fastest in the class,” Ben said. “Sometimes I chase him.”
“You are going to catch him in those shoes,” I said.
Ben grinned. It was the biggest, most beautiful smile.
This is an unimaginably busy, stressful time of year with lots of obligations. But even if you have to shoehorn it around the 50,000 other things on your plate, make some time to volunteer somewhere with some great organization because some things, you just have to do.