Eastern Hancock brings shoes to school’s food pantry

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Eastern Hancock has added shoes to its offerings at the district’s student food pantry in hopes of giving kids in need easier access to essential items.

Racks of sneakers in varying sizes to fit kindergarten to 12th-grade students can now be found among the canned goods and other nonperishable foods that are available in the food pantry, located within Eastern Hancock High School.

District leaders say they hope adding shoes to the pantry is the first step toward growing their makeshift pantry so even more items are available for free to its at-risk students. Having a well-stocked and diverse food pantry available at school takes the burden of driving to find assistance off of families who might already be having a tough time, district leaders say.

In 2015, a handful of Eastern Hancock High School students stepped up to create the district’s food pantry, which makes food available to students at risk of being hungry during the weekend when school-provided meals aren’t available.

Now, the school district is partnering with a Rush County-based organization called Changing Footprints, which collects new and gently used shoes to give away to kids in need. The group has drop off sites all over Central Indiana, including one in Hancock County at the Acorn Tree, 209 W. Main St., Greenfield.

Changing Footprints’ reach is international, according to its website. It sends shoes to local homeless shelters and food banks and to disaster relief efforts across the nation and the world. In 2005, the group’s first year in existence, organizers collected 500 pairs of shoes to give away; a decade later, that number had risen to more than 16,500.

It was a transfer student, who moved into the Eastern Hancock Schools amid a family crisis, who inspired the new offering, said high school and middle school principal Dave Pfaff. Teachers approached the boy a few days into the school year to ask if there was anything he needed to make adjusting to his new school easier.

The student mentioned he’d grown over the summer, and his shoes were a bit tight, Pfaff said. He said his family couldn’t afford a new pair. The boy told his teachers he’d appreciate a new pair of shoes if anyone had them to give away, Pfaff said.

And that’s a fairly common request, guidance counselor Jennifer Lightcap said.

She regularly checks in with kids she knows might be having a tough time at home, no matter the reason. She always makes a point to ask if there is anything they need, whether it’s school supplies, a listening ear or something more.

Almost every year an Eastern student confides in Lightcap that financial troubles at home have made it harder for Mom and Dad to address basic needs, like better-fitting shoes or clothes. From there, she’ll privately reach out to teachers or local families who she knows will willingly bring in a bag or two of gently-used hand-me-downs, she said.

This year, Lightcap forged the relationship with Changing Footprints to make providing shoes a bit easier. Partnering with the organization gives the school district unlimited access to shoes in all sizes and shades, she said.

Now, they’ll be available for any student to take, just like the cans of soup, fruits and vegetables with which they share the shelves at Eastern’s food pantry.

The pantry is located in a resource room at the high school. On Friday afternoons, students of all ages are invited to peruse its shelves and pack a bag with food items — provided to the district by the Hancock County Food Pantry — to take home for the weekend, when school lunches aren’t available, Pfaff said.

He hopes the pantry will continue to grow to hold other clothing items and whatever else students express a need for, he said.

Because Eastern Hancock sits on the edge of Hancock County, it can be tough for families to make the extra drive to take advantage of countywide assistance programs that are often headquartered in Greenfield, Pfaff said. Having the goods available right at the school eliminates that burden, he said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.