Student faces lit up the room at Maryville’s Head Start as each child received a new pair of shoes from the non-profit organization Shoes from the Heart on March 23.
Donnie Bonuchi and his late wife, Cindy, started the organization in their home town of Macon in 2012. The couple’s Sunday school class at the First Baptist Church in Lincoln challenged members asking “what can you do to give back to the community?”
Cindy wanted to help children. She felt that oftentimes people are so focused on sending their resources overseas to those in need, they overlook the needs in their own community. Their Sunday school partnered with another class to purchase and deliver 65 pairs of tennis shoes to the local Head Start.
From there, the movement has grown. In 2017, the organization will deliver 36,000 pairs of shoes to children throughout three states. There are 20,000 children currently enrolled in Head Start programs throughout Missouri and each of them will receive a pair of shoes.
The other 16,000 pairs of shoes will be distributed to elementary students in Missouri public schools as well as children in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas. There are no qualifications or applications. Teachers identify students who could benefit from the service and submit their names when the organization comes to that school, no questions asked.
They have also donated shoes to women and children centers, foster children, community services and disaster relief programs.
This year, Shoes from the Heart has a $400,000 budget consisting of donations, grants and partnerships with other foundations. They do not have any paid employees and the warehouse storage has all been donated so there is no overhead cost. All of the budgeted money will go toward purchasing $10-12 pairs of shoes for children.
“This is what it’s all about, seeing their smiles. This is the first pair of new shoes a lot of them have had. To see their faces, it’s priceless. It’s like Christmas,” Bonuchi said.
Shoes from the Heart has a board of directors and all tasks, including grant writing, website and social media upkeep, bookkeeping, packaging shoes and delivering shoes, are done by volunteers.
Bonuchi stated the organization only donates tennis shoes because they have chosen to focus on one thing and to do that well.
In Maryville, they gave out 40 pairs of shoes to children. Missouri Home State Health, which manages Missouri Medicaid health services, is one of the organization’s partners. They donated 300 pairs of shoes.
“We believe providing healthcare at the local level is best. It’s why we team up with Shoes from the Heart,” Home State Health Supervisor of Community Outreach Francis Slay stated.
Shoes from the Heart plans to continue delivering a new pair of shoes to every Missouri Head Start child each year and spreading the program as funds allow.