Shoe Giveaway Afoot: Officers discovered from Harvey the need for athletic shoes for at-risk kids; Efforts underway to involve HPD to enhance one ongoing community program

Tom Kennedy

In the wake of the devasting Hurricane Harvey, HPD officers went the extra nine miles in flooded waters to help the Houstonians they serve in very special ways.

While helping flooded-out families with the basics – food, clothing and shelter, officers discovered there were plenty of clothing donations but not enough shoes.

Jamail Johnson, pastor of a northside church, took note of the conditions, which were especially crucial to the needier elementary and middle school children in the area, and set up a church-sponsored shoe distribution program. It grew into what is now known as Kicks4Kids.

Still encouraged by the highly successful Central Patrol Thanksgiving Food Drive, Northeast Patrol Sgt. Michael Francoise put his shoes to work. The food drive resulted from an HPD/community partnership that provided Thanksgiving meals in needy North Central Houston neighborhoods.

“A shoe giveaway is great,” he said, “but you have to change the dynamic.” That dynamic will include an end scenario with HPD officers delivering new athletic shoes to the appropriate recipients, exactly the same method used when officers and command staff members provided food to neighborhood recipients last Thanksgiving.

Sgt. Francoise, a prime mover in the food drive, is using the same formula in the effort to provide shoes for kids who are subjected to bullying by their peers because their families can’t afford name brand equipment. He felt HPD’s involvement would “change the dynamic” and enhance the Kicks4Kids fundraising opportunities and the ability to get better shoes at a lower cost.

Francoise estimated that community fundraising totaling $20,000 is necessary to pay for shoes for 1,000 eligible kids by the end of the spring. Community fundraising is in place and the Houston Police Officers Union has contributed $2,500.

“We could supply shoes for these kids for the fall or spring,” he said of his goal, “and by the summer they’ve outgrown them and need a larger pair.” The more ambitious plan requires more than one distribution a year.

Following the pattern for the Thanksgiving Food Drive, Francoise has met with school officials and community leaders to determine the truly deserving kids in need of shoes. He also has walked along the path to get a corporate sponsor.

Here’s what happened in the efforts to court Nike.

He began with local store officials and walked his way up to regional officials and, finally, national corporate officials. They told him the corporation could not donate a large number of shoes but would be willing to discount shoes 30 percent.

This translates to an average cost per pair of shoes for elementary or middle school kids to be about $25 or $30.

Truth be told, the shoe crusader was hoping for better results. He has been in contact with another possible sponsor, the Under Armour footwear company.

“The main question is: Can we have another partner involved?” he explained, “one who is willing to support this project entirely rather than giving a discount. Kids are getting picked on because they don’t have the right pair of shoes, a name brand pair. Law enforcement sees bullying because a child doesn’t have the name brand. We need to change the behavior going on with adolescent youth.

“Our main mission is we’re trying to give shoes to at-risk kids. Their parents can’t afford to buy them name brand shoes. They wear what they have or hand-me-downs – all their parents can afford. We want to supply these children with a new pair of shoes so they are not ashamed or bullied. We believe this will have a great impact.”

Although not yet fully in place, Francoise believes HPD’s involvement will result in a dramatic increase in the number of at-risk kids served. Currently, Kicks4Kids serves 400 to 500 children once a year. The HPD enhancement goal is 1,000 kids two or three times a year, accounting for growth periods in which shoe sizes change.

Another possible aspect of the shoe program entails a Nike-sponsored used shoe donation program entitled Nike Grind. The company will accept any old athletic shoes to be stored and eventually recycled for such projects as surfaces for school playgrounds and tracks.

The sergeant said the department could easily help Kicks4Kids sponsor a donation program. Nike has event volunteered a local storage location. But there is no guarantee that the resulting facility – which might even include an outdoor workout court – would wind up in a needy Houston neighborhood.

“We could get more support for a donation program,” he said, “if we knew how and where the donated shoes were to be used.”

Sgt. Francoise said he has many more steps to take to get the program going full speed. He expects to walk through the process as fast as he can to have a program in place by late spring or the beginning of summer.