Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in an ongoing Long Beach Post series called Safe Streets, looking at the challenges of getting around in the city’s neighborhoods.
Lily Rodriguez used to skate to school, but her board went down a sewage drain. She tried riding a bike, but it broke.
Now she sometimes gets a ride from her mom; other days the 14-year-old freshman walks the 20 minutes it takes to get from her Central Long Beach apartment to Poly High.
It helps to have a good pair of shoes.
Rodriguez and hundreds of other low-income kids in Long Beach have received new shoes thanks to a nonprofit called His Little Feet. It was founded in 2014 and is still run out of the garage in Hali Wolf’s East Long Beach home.
Lily’s Mom, Iris Rodriguez, cleans the salon where Wolf cuts hair (there are no paid staff at the nonprofit).
“She is our angel,” said the elder Rodriguez, a single mom with four teenage kids.
The Long Beach Post, as part of its Safe Streets series, is helping raise money and shoe donations for the organization, which has so far provided more than 14,000 pairs of shoes to local kids.
Wolf said about 2,500 shoes are doled out each year. However, the need is far greater.
The Long Beach Unified School District annually enrolls some 6,000 kids who meet requirements under the McKinney-Vento Act, which provides federal assistance to kids deemed homeless. There are close to 55,000 homeless kids in all of Los Angeles County.
The organization would need to more than double its donation output just to give homeless kids in Long Beach one pair of shoes per year. And that’s just homeless kids; there are many more who can’t afford the cost of shoes, which can range from $30 to $50, and up—especially if you’re talking athletic ware.
And kids that age grow fast.
Lily Rodriguez said she bought a pair of marching-band shoes a week before a show. By Saturday, the day of the event, they were too small.
Lily’s dreams are not too small, however. Rodriguez, who is enrolled in Poly’s PACE program, says she hopes to study and become an architect so she can build her mother her first house—and also a farm where she can take care of animals.
His Little Feet takes money donations, along with donations of new and gently used shoes. Wolf in fact started the organization in part because her own kids were growing out of their practically new shoes so quickly.
The specific idea for the nonprofit came after a visit in January 2014 to Adams Elementary school, where Wolf saw kids wearing shoes that were literally taped together. A few days later she and a few other moms gathered 20 pairs of shoes to give to the kids.
“It’s grown from there,” said Wolf, standing in her garage that is taken over by shelves and baskets of donated shoes.
Wolf said, given the work of other nonprofits to address various needs of low-income kids and the homeless, she wanted to keep the mission of the nonprofit simple. Though getting a new pair of shoes is no small thing.
Wolf noted that with uniform policies in place at LBUSD elementary, middle and some high schools, shoes are the one thing that can set a student apart from their peers.
“We want to stamp out that stigma,” she said.
The organization on Oct. 21 is hosting a soccer clinic with Nike, which has donated hundreds of shoes to His Little Feet, at Franklin Middle School. The first 50 kids who register will receive a free ball and soccer cleats.
To register for event, send an email with the subject of “soccer” to [email protected].
To donate, visit here. A $20 donation will provide one child with one pair of shoes; $600 is enough to adopt a classroom with 30 pairs of shoes; $2,000 provides a school with 100 pairs of shoes.