Saturday afternoon, March 13, an energetic group of eighth-graders from Hellgate Middle School held an athletic shoe exchange for kids across the community. For weeks, this community service project team worked with local businesses, churches, TV, radio stations and the Missoulian to promote their project. The vision for the project was to provide kids in our community the opportunity to pick up athletic shoes for the upcoming sports seasons at no cost.

When shoes started to fill the dropoff boxes around town, the kids could see that there would be more than enough shoes to fill the needs of the community. The team decided then that they needed to find other kids who could benefit from the shoes drive. Immediately Haiti came to mind.

A simple idea had now grown in scope. The event brought many families to the Hellgate Elementary gym where they were free to try on any shoe that caught their eye. Almost everyone was able to walk away with a new pair of shoes. During the event, many people in the community also dropped off shoes so the table could be restocked. At the end of the day the kids bagged up the remaining shoes with the next phase of the project on their minds – raising money to ship the shoes to Haiti.

After a lot of counting and sorting, the results are in – the shoe drive was a success:

n 121 pairs of shoes were given away.

n 40 pairs of cleats are being used as trade-in toward the purchase of shoes for the Hellgate Middle School Wrestling program.

n 50 pairs of shoes were dropped off at Poverello Center.

n 138 pairs of shoes are going to Haiti.

The best part was seeing the smiling faces of kids going out the door with new shoes.

Just like the Oscars, we could go on forever thanking everyone who helped to make our project a success. Since we do not have the time nor space, we would like to thank a few people who went the extra mile.

We would like to thank all the local business and churches that provided space for our collection boxes, and Tom Anthony and morning DJs at Cherry Creek Radio, Monte Turner and KECI “Montana Today” team and The Trail for the live interviews and PSA announcements. We would also like to thank Kurt Whitmire of Play It Again Sports who volunteered at the event where he helped fit kids with the proper size and type of shoe, for teaching us the difference between baseball, soccer and football cleats. Most important, a huge round of applause to the Missoulian for their amazing promotional support!

As a parent who was lucky enough to work on the project, and as a middle school teacher, we were amazed at how many of the kids jumped in full force. Many had never worked on a community service project before. Many were surprised at how much fun it was and how they knew their project was going to have a positive effect on some child. Their faces said it all when they were able to help a younger child find the perfect shoe.

As the kids now get ready to raise funds to ship the shoes, we hope that this positive experience stays with them as a reminder of how rewarding giving your time can be. Speaking for ourselves and the other adults helping with the project, it was so rewarding to see kids today get behind a cause and put their time and energy into giving back. We hope that those involved with the project seek out other opportunities to help those around them.

Thank you, eighth graders! Thank you, Missoula!

Eliska Alderson and Andrea Burke served as team leaders for the eighth grade Hellgate Community Service Project.

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