The United Way is looking to make sure local children are covered from head to toe.
The organization’s Rutland County chapter intends to double the size of a hastily launched program buying shoes for children in need and develop companion programs for hats and gloves, Executive Director Caprice Hover said Thursday.
“It was something we started off the cuff last year because we saw the need,” she said.
Hover said during discussions at a local food bank, she learned that a number of school teachers were paying out of their own pockets to buy shoes for their poorer students. She said she managed to scrape together $2,500 out of the United Way’s budget and got Carris Reels to match that with another $2,500, paying for 100 pairs of shoes. These were distributed in Rutland City, Fair Haven, Castleton and Brandon.
“Unfortunately, we live in a high-poverty area,” she said. “Parents can buy some shoes at Walmart, but they don’t last. They’re wearing them for everything — indoors, outdoors, recreation. We thought we could partner with businesses and get some high-quality shoes and then maybe if they outgrow them, they could bring them back to the school.”
Rutland City Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Rob Bliss, who worked with Hover on the project in the city schools, called it “another great example of how United Way of Rutland County sees a need and works to fill it.”
Now, Hover said, she wants to cast a wider net.
“We did not get countywide schools,” she said. “When schools open in September, we’ll be making a personal visit to each school and dropping off a flyer. ... We had an anonymous donor that provided $5,000. We need to match him.”
At the same time, she said, they are working with BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont on getting gloves and Foley Services on getting hats.
Hover said it was hard to guess the total need.
“I could easily see 30 per school, and there’s a lot of schools,” she said. “I would gauge, if we did this right, we’d be looking at 500 to 1,000 pairs of shoes a year.
Hover said the United Way fell short of its fundraising goal this year — the $550,000 they are projected to finish with is better than last year’s $480,000, but still short of the aimed-for $575,000.
“We need to get back up closer to $600,000 to even start to meet the need,” she said. “I think we’re really in a rebuilding mode.”