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placeholder Bishop Vigneron says farewell

Bishop Emeritus Cummins reflects
on Bishop Vigneron’s appointment

Detroit welcomes a native son as new archbishop

Cathedral food service hires grads of Kitchen of Champions' culinary training program

Cathedral interfaith prayer service for President-elect, administration

St. Bede School/Moreau High grad creates award-winning adventures of a holy hit man

Moraga parishioners put new shoes on students’ feet

Schools plan civic lessons, celebrations to observe Obama inauguration

Gaza priest: ‘We cry and nobody hears us’

Catholic clinics destroyed in Gaza; patriarch calls for peace

Catholic Relief Services pledges to continue aid to Gaza

Immigration reform advocates hopeful of success with Obama

Religious coalition urges Obama to end U.S. torture practices

Americans report religion’s influence on the decline

Guatemalan Catholics march on crime rate

Operation Rice Bowl funds delivered to nine local service organizations

Pastoral ministry schools graduate 50 lay leaders

Youth in diocese instructed on possible sex abuse

placeholder January 19, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

St. Anthony School students show off their new shoes as they walk to class.
José Luis Aguirre photo

Moraga parishioners put
new shoes on students’ feet

When Lita (not her real name), a second grader at St. Anthony School in Oakland received her first pair of new shoes, she couldn’t stop beaming. A few days later, when Lita’s mom went to visit a friend in the hospital, the little girl skipped down the hallway to the nurse’s station and struck up a conversation with the woman on duty.

“Do you like my new shoes?’ she asked Laverne Peralta. Peralta recognized the child’s school uniform and asked where she had gotten them. Lita replied, “They’re from the God-ladies.”

This was Lita’s name for the parishioners at St. Monica Church in Moraga who support Shoes That Fit, a program that provides new shoes, socks, shirts, underwear and uniforms to needy St. Anthony students.
José Luis Aguirre photo

Peralta was one of those “God-ladies,” and she just couldn’t wait to tell Kathi Balousek, Shoes That Fit coordinator, about their group’s new name.

For kids who are wearing their sibling’s or their parent’s shoes, for youngsters with tattered uniforms that are too small or too large, receiving brand new clothing that actually fits and looks good must truly seem like miraculous gifts from the heavenly abode.

Story of gratitude

Balousek still tears up every time she tells Lita’s story of gratitude. And after nine years of heading up the program, this St. Monica parishioner is still as thoroughly attached to Shoes That Fit as she was in its beginning months.

“It’s such a hands-on program for doing good deeds,” she said. “An entire family can go shopping together. It’s such an easy way to engage everyone in a meaningful act of kindness.”

Balousek found out about Shoes That Fit from a Family Circle magazine article in the spring of 1999. The story told about Claremont resident Elodie Silva who started an outreach after learning from a teacher friend how many needy children were at her school.

One of those children had gone to the principal’s office complaining that his feet hurt.
When the staff member removed his shoes, she discovered that his toes were turned under and his feet had been crammed into shoes two sizes too small. Silva got names and shoe sizes for this youngster and 44 other needy schoolmates. Then she asked her co-workers to help.

Four days later, all 45 kids at that school had new shoes. Their response inspired Silva to start a nationwide program. Shoes That Fit thrives today, with hundreds of participating groups providing shoes and clothing for poor children.

On fire by what she had read, Balousek went to her parish life director, Cath McGhee, to see if St. Monica’s Parish could become a sponsor for an East Bay school. McGhee thought it was a wonderful idea and recommended that Balousek contact the Diocesan School office for the name of a needy school. Officials there pointed Balousek to St. Anthony’s in East Oakland.

To recruit contributors, Balousek followed the simple format which national Shoes That Fit recommends: collect first names and clothing or shoe sizes from the kids’ parents, teachers and principals; write these facts on index cards and post them on a prominent bulletin board with an informative poster telling what you are trying to do; then wait for responses. They always come. Once the donations have arrived, the kids are called into the school office to receive their gifts.

Since St. Anthony’s is a year-round school, there have been numerous opportunities for St. Monica parishioners to participate. And because kids are always growing, replacements are often need, said Balousek.

More than 5,100 clothing items

To date, the Moraga parish has supplied more than 5,100 clothing items to children at St. Anthony’s. A crew of 12 volunteers take turns keeping the bulletin board updated with new entries, retrieving donations that people bring to Sunday Masses, bagging up the items and delivering them to the school each Monday.
Since the program’s beginning nine years ago, Balousek and her helpers have devised even more ways to help struggling families.

In 2000, one woman purchased umbrellas for every St. Anthony student.
Five years ago, Christine Pitt organized a special program around First Holy Communion, providing white dresses, shoes and veils for the little girls and dark slacks, white shirts and ties for the little boys. Prayer books and rosaries are included.
That same year, parishioner Maureen Graf recruited a team to tutor St. Anthony students on a weekly basis.

Two years ago, Balousek’s committee began sponsoring a brunch for First Communicants and their families and friends. It takes place right after the special liturgy.

Inspired by good works

Inspired by all of these good works, Kids Care, a group of St. Monica parents who have set out to engender compassion in their children by working with them on service projects, decided to get in on the act. In 2006 they began sponsoring a picnic each September for St. Anthony third graders and their parents. Kids Care rents a bus and brings the Oaklanders for a day of fun at Rancho Laguna Park in Moraga.
Another “God-lady” gift came from an anonymous donor who thought that every seventh and eighth grader should own a hard-backed book. Her choice? A “Harry Potter”novel.

The newest God-lady lives on the Peninsula and is only eight years old. Last May, Julia Starr decided that she didn’t want any birthday gifts for herself. Since she loves all kinds of shoes, she thought that if each birthday guest could bring a pair of shoes for a child who wasn’t as fortunate as she, it would be a great way to celebrate. Her mom went on the Internet and discovered Shoes That Fit. The organization put the pair in touch with Kathi Balousek. The result? Thirty-six pairs of new shoes for St. Anthony kids.

All of this generosity has produced a lot of happy faces around the school. Among the happiest is Sister Barbara Flannery, the principal and a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

“I don’t know what we’d do without this program,” she exclaimed.

Delighted smiles, changed attitudes

Before coming aboard two years ago, she had only the vaguest idea about “Shoes That Fit.” She learned quickly, however. Each Monday, when one of the St. Monica volunteers would appear in the school office with the latest clothing treasures, the nun began to see for herself — “the delighted smiles, the attitude changes. The kids feel so good about themselves.”

She particularly recalls a little boy who ripped his pants while playing in the schoolyard. His mom tried to mend them, but despite her best efforts “they looked terrible.”

As a result, the child glumly hung back at recess, trying to fade into the background. A call to the Moraga team was definitely in order. Soon, a new pair of uniform pants arrived. “It was a gift from the heart that turned him into a different child,” said Sister Flannery.

The nun said she didn’t anticipate how her gratitude for Shoes That Fit could go much deeper, but it has. Since September, more of the school’s parents have applied for tuition aid. They report reduced work hours or being laid off. Waiters are getting fewer tips, housecleaners find that families are no longer paying for outside help. Women are doing their own manicures, and homeowners are doing their own gardening and landscaping.

All of this is having a serious ripple effect on St. Anthony parishioners who earn their livelihoods in these ways. But Shoes That Fit continues to provide much needed help, making sure the ripples don’t turn into a tidal wave.

Kathi Balousek is willing to help other parishes start the Shoes That Fit program for other struggling schools in the East Bay. She can be reached at (925)-376-8934.

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