Betty Snapp still remembers her childhood shoes in strangely specific detail. Looking back, she calls them “Girl Scout shoes,” remarking that they were ugly, black and regularly needed to be polished.
For her, the shoes represented something more – namely, her single mother’s struggle to buy school supplies and new clothing for her and her siblings. Snapp found similar struggles reflected in her years spent volunteering with Independence elementary schools, where she says she often saw children wearing flip-flops in the winter.
Decades later, Snapp continues to view shoes as important and transformative, a mindset that inspires her organization, Tennies for Kids.
Snapp and her friend Donna Siegel started Tennies for Kids in 2011. Each year, they organize a donation drive, where community members can give either new tennis shoes or money to the Community Services League. After that comes Snapp’s favorite part: distributing shoes to children at CSL’s annual Back to School Fair.
“Every kid holds their own pair of tennis shoes and smiles,” Snapp said. “The mother will say, ‘Well, I think this pair would be better,’ but the kid generally wins. It’s just a fuzzy, good, warm feeling.”
Since its first year, Tennies for Kids has grown rapidly. In 2011, Snapp and Siegel organized on their own and collected 150 pairs of shoes. Throughout the following seven years, the cause galvanized support from churches, businesses like Papa Murphy’s and La Fuente and even the Kansas City Royals.
Last year, this number surged to 2,500 pairs of shoes distributed.
While some people bought new tennis shoes for the drive, Snapp emphasized that she purchased most of these pairs with the help of small monetary donations. She says $10 should be enough for a pair of tennis shoes, and that these donations add up – so much so that she once walked into Walmart and asked how many tennis shoes $2,000 could buy.
In fact, Snapp says the ability to make a big difference through small actions is one of the core lessons that Tennies for Kids has taught her.
“Shoes are important for kids, especially now. They can make the difference on a first day of school and in how kids feel about being there,” Snapp explained. “I never thought about how meaningful it really was, until I walked away feeling like, ‘Wow, I helped a kid.’”
To donate money or tennis shoes, or to volunteer at the Back to School Fair, contact the Community Services League at email@example.com.
The Back to School Fair is expected to take place on Saturday, Aug. 4. To register, visit a CSL office (locations are listed at cslcares.org/locations).