Shoe-free campaign tests students' soles, raises awareness

By: Lauren Gibbs, The Placer Herald
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Ruhkala Elementary students were on a mission to bare their soles for a cause Monday. It was part of an international campaign, One Day Without Shoes, to raise awareness about the risks of children going barefoot. Tuesday, millions of people decided to forgo shoes for the Tom’s Shoes awareness campaign, but Ruhkala Elementary students got a head start by holding their shoeless day Monday. Melody Thorson, principal of Ruhkala Elementary, said it was a project that she believed in and thought the Rocklin students could relate to. “The kids loved it,” she said. “It was a really great opportunity for kids to become aware outside the walls of Rocklin.” A simulated walk was set up for students to get a feel for different types of ground, like gravel, sand and soil, that children who cannot afford shoes might walk over on a daily basis. Students at Ruhkala Elementary were required to wear shoes on the blacktop and in the cafeteria for safety reasons, but everywhere else throughout the campus, they walked barefoot. Sixth-grader Josiah Williams said after playing basketball barefoot, his feet were left sore and dirty. “It really got me thinking about kids in other countries,” he said. Makena Higa, also a sixth-grader, said taking off her shoes made her more aware of the importance of covering her feet. Children who walk barefoot are susceptible to infections, especially when they step on something sharp, cut their foot and then walk in soil that may carry diseases, Higa said. “I think it was important to learn,” she said. “We take a simple thing like a pair of shoes for granted.” Kindergartners at Ruhkala Elementary came away from One Day Without Shoes asking what they could do to help. Their question spurred an idea of a school-wide shoe drive. Now through May 6, students and community members can donate new or gently used children’s shoes to the school’s front office during school hours. Half of the donated shoes will go to a Placer County homeless shelter and the other half will travel across the world to children in Japan. Thorson said many of the students showed empathy toward others less fortunate. “It’s really powerful to see kids make connections to the real world,” she said. Williams said forgoing shoes for a day opened his eyes to how important something so small can be. “It makes me feel really good,” he said. “Even something so simple can make a child’s day.” Kindergartners made posters that will be displayed on campus encouraging people to donate shoes. Donation bins will be placed in each classroom as well as in the school’s front office. ------------ Shoe drive How to help: Donate new or gently used children’s shoes When: During school hours, 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Friday Where: Ruhkala Elementary School, front office, 6530 Turnstone Way in Rocklin