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‘A lot of shoes’

UScellular donates $5,000 worth of shoes to Phoenix High School students

The Phoenix High School library was quiet Monday afternoon until representatives from UScellular came in and filled a large table full of Vans, Adidas and Nike boxes.

It represented just some of the $5,000 worth of shoes that the mobile network operator bought as part of its first “Locally Grown Joy” initiative, targeting Washington, Oregon and California.

Lindsey Hicks, right, and Sarah Pearson, both of UScellular, unload shoes for needy students Monday at Phoenix High School. Photo by Denise Baratta
Marcus George and Sarah Pearson, of UScellular, and Tracy Koa of the Phoenix-Talent School District, arrange boxes of shoes for needy students Monday in the Phoenix High School library. Photo by Denise Baratta

After UScellular representatives identified the high school as a place they wanted to help, they reached out to the district, which told the company it was in need of shoes, recalled Lindsey Hicks, UScellular’s local marketing manager.

“So, we decided, ‘yup, we’re going to give you shoes and we’re going to give you a lot of shoes,’” Hicks said.

On Monday, the shoes were towed to the front of the school in a truck and trailer attachment, bearing the image of a lit up cellphone tower looking down on a mountainous town. It wasn’t long before several company officials, holding several boxes at a time, came upstairs to unload them in the library.

“We’re just so happy to be able to give back to the community,” Hicks said. “It really is an honor that … we can work with a school and deserving families to identify what’s most important to them and hopefully alleviate any stress that they may have.”

She identified Phoenix High School as a place that needed donations after talking to UScellular sales representatives in the area.

“Through those sessions, I was able to gather a very robust list,” she said. “From there, we went through and looked to see what would make sense and align with our goals and purposes.”

Tracy Koa, student and family engagement specialist for the Phoenix-Talent School District, remembers early conversations with the company.

“UScellular reached out to me, they said, ‘we’re coming to the area. We’d like to do something to support Phoenix-Talent schools. What are your thoughts?,’” Koa said. “I said, ‘sneakers for the high school.’”

Phoenix High Principal Toby Walker expanded on the need for his students to have shoes, invoking his own childrens’ activities as an example.

“I’ve got three kids of my own — two of which have started to get involved with sports,” Walker said. “It’s an ongoing struggle to keep up with shoes.”

The need for that particular item of clothing among Phoenix students doesn’t all have to do with the Almeda fire, which displaced many families when it occurred more than a year ago.

“The fire had a huge impact on families rebuilding their closets, essentially,” Walker said. “Kids, especially teenagers, are hard on things — and clothes and shoes.”

Koa freely admits kids of all ages who attend the district’s schools might need shoes. But she wanted to focus on the high school because she believes those students don’t wear out shoes as fast as younger ones.

“I feel really strongly that at the high school level, it’s really important that kids have the opportunity to feel good in what they’re wearing and how they appear out in the world,” Koa said.

Walker also touched on the appeal shoes have with kids, saying they might wear them to “fit in” with a certain crowd, but he hopes that’s not the only reason.

“They want to feel like they belong to something,” Walker said. “I don't think you need shoes to do that, but at the same time, if you feel confident in what you’re wearing, then you usually conduct yourself in a more confident way.”

Hicks made similar comments about the shoes’ brands and hoped it would provide something fun for students.

“Hopefully, we can find something that meets each child’s personal style and patterns that they’re into,” she said.

Hicks noted that while shoes are a necessity, they can also be expensive.

“It can be a challenge for some families to be able to purchase the latest and greatest for all of their children,” she said. “So hopefully this (donation) will alleviate that for some of these families.”

Families did not come to PHS to pick up shoes Monday, but about 40 families have already been identified as the first who will get them, according to Koa.

The supply of shoes that were not “earmarked” by specific families will go into the new “Phoenix-Talent Rising lockers'' — a hub placed at each district school where staff can support students with essential items, including shoes.

“Throughout the year, instead of a teacher having to call me, they can just head down with the student (to the locker) and say, ‘Hey, do you want to see if there’s anything here that fits you?’” Koa said. “Then, that kid knows they have a champion at school for them.”

Walker thanked UScellular for its donation.

“Service-based projects by big corporations are huge when they give back to the community,” he said. “They understand kids are our future. It’s greatly appreciated and greatly needed, so we feel very blessed to be on the receiving end of that. Our families will as well.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.