Karol Osborne | 3/8/2019 9:38:50 PM
(03/08/19) MONROE, La. — Staying active is about to get easier and be a lot more fun for 40 children at Barkdull Faulk Elementary School in Monroe who are getting new athletic shoes as part of the Fit Feet project.
Fit Feet is a collaborative effort among the LSU AgCenter general nutrition and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs, the Ouachita Parish Healthy Communities Coalition, Academy Sports and Outdoors, and The Bruscato Law Firm.
“Having athletic shoes that fit properly will encourage children to be more physically active and help them avoid falling into the 15 percent of children in Louisiana who are not in excellent or very good health,” said LSU AgCenter nutrition agent Cathy Agan.
The parish coalition decided to target Barkdull Faulk Elementary School after learning of the children’s shoe issues and launched the Fit Feet project to provide new athletic shoes for children in need.
“We learned that the school is having problems with children coming to the office crying or complaining because they either have shoes that do not fit or are falling apart,” said AgCenter nutrition agent Markaye Russell.
Because their feet hurt from too small shoes or their shoes are in such bad shape, it is hard for the children to fully participate in physical education classes or run and play at recess, Russell said.
Studies cited by the National Institutes of Health indicate that physical activity lowers the risk of obesity, Agan said.
In Louisiana, studies report 34 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, while 52 percent of children and teens in the state do not exercise regularly.
“We want to change these statistics for Ouachita Parish and help equip children in need with the proper shoes for movement and active play,” Agan said.
Monroe City School Board member Jennifer Haneline, who also serves on the Ouachita Parish Healthy Communities Coalition, introduced the Fit Feet project idea in September 2018.
Haneline said she was inspired by a similar program called Shirley’s Shoes, a community-based outreach in Ohio spearheaded for decades by her late aunt and dedicated to providing new shoes for children in need.
“It was something we can do immediately that has a direct impact on physical activity,” Haneline said.
Haneline reached out to Monroe attorney John Bruscato, who provided the first donation to move the project forward.
“What got me excited about it was — I remember when I was a little kid — the best day ever was the day you got a new pair of shoes,” Bruscato said.
Being able to share that feeling with young people and provide shoes with an appropriate fit for overall safety and health were the reasons Bruscato said he wanted to get involved in the project.
For organizational recommendations, Russell contacted Shoes That Fit, a national organization that has provided more than 2 million pairs of shoes since 1992 to children across the country.
“We planned to start the project by providing 80 students with new shoes at Barkdull Faulk Elementary,” Russell said.
“We are just starting out, and I think everybody’s goal is to expand it into other schools and eventually have a regional presence,” Bruscato said.
Barkdull Faulk principal Cleveland Mouton said community partnerships like Fit Feet help build student confidence.
“Anytime we can partner with the community and bring outside resources in to benefit our students is a great opportunity,” Mouton said. “It is a blessing.”
Fifth-grader Jordyn Jackson said she is happy to have her new shoes. “I plan to put them on tomorrow and play basketball,” she said.
The project will help many families, especially those with multiple children, said Stacie Yerger, curriculum coordinator at the school.
“Shoes are expensive for those families, some with five or six children,” she said.
Students receiving the shoes were selected by faculty based on economic need, and parents signed a release allowing their children to donate their old shoes in exchange for new ones.
Bruscato said the exchange was an important part of the project in order to remove any unsafe or worn shoes from circulation.
Healthy Communities is an educational outreach program sponsored by the LSU AgCenter that supports a systematic, community-driven approach to reduce obesity by addressing the nutrition and physical activity environments in Louisiana.
Students at Barkdull Faulk Elementary School in Monroe try on new athletic shoes as part of the Fit Feet project. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter
Students at Barkdull Faulk Elementary School in Monroe get ready to play in their new athletic shoes they received as part of the Fit Feet project. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter