SALEM — Two years ago, Laurie Shaw, who for years has worked with youths, could not have predicted what a pair of good-fitting shoes could do for a kid.
That some children go to school in shoes that are sizes too small.
That some kids have toes that won't stretch to their natural length because they've been crammed in shoes long ago outgrown.
Until recently, it didn't occur to Shaw — or many of her partners in the area — what a pair of shoes could do for a child's self-esteem and enthusiasm for physical activity.
A project started by a group of South Salem High School students is teaching the adults lessons.
One Thousand Soles is a shoe drive for youths started by Molly Edwards' AVID class at South Salem High School. The project is in its second year, having increased its goal tenfold from last year's One Hundred Soles. This year, the drive has collected 1,100 pairs of new and gently used shoes and almost $900 in donations. The drive ends May 30.
"It's never crossed my mind that their feet hurt," said Shaw, the city of Salem's youth development and prevention coordinator. "This drive has opened our eyes to how great the need is. We've barely scratched the surface."
Recently, elementary school children from across the region participated in a nearly four-decade Salem tradition, the Country Kids Relays.
Almost 50 of those runners competed in shoes distributed from the One Thousand Soles drive, which has collected 1,100 pairs of shoes and raised almost $900.
Chuck Larimer, Stayton Elementary School's physical education teacher and relay coach, said the shoes were a game-changer for the kids.
Larimer said he used to see runners come to practice in boots or basketball shoes or worn-out shoes. Beyond that, he knows these kids. He knows which of them need shoes.
The best part, he said, was seeing the students' faces when they first received their shoes.
"There's one child — when we gave her the shoes and said they were hers, she looked at us like we were punking her," Larimer said. "She said, 'Are you sure?' "
At Hallman Elementary School, wearing shoes that fit was a new experience for some of the children, physical education teacher Carol Lindquist said.
"Some of those kids told me, 'I feel like I'm flying on air,' because the shoes felt so good on their feet," she said. The kids are running better, but only part of that is because of the shoes. Mostly, they're more confident and enthusiastic about running.
"The shoes definitely make the kids faster but also just that extra confidence knowing that these are my shoes and by golly, they're running shoes," Larimer said.
"They have a bounce in their step," Hallman's Lindquist said. "That's the biggest thing."