Students in the District may miss a few days of school this winter because of nasty weather or colds, but the PTA-sponsored Shoe and Rubber Fund wants to ensure that lack of needed shoes and boots isn't one of the reasons.
William H.L. Brown, president of the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers and conservator of the fund, said he wants to see that as many public school students as possible receive "shoes, rubbers, tennis shoes -- whatever footwear a youngster needs to attend school and classes."
Ideally, the fund would like to provide shoes for every student who needs them, but in recent years, the economy has forced it to pick and choose, Brown said.
Begun years ago as part of the Washington Community Chest, the fund was started to provide dress shoes for graduating high school seniors who could not afford them.
Over the years, the program expanded to include all footwear necessary for a student's attendance and all schoolchildren. Brown said that over the past 10 years, several thousand children have been helped.
Until a few years ago, "older children had been using the fund less and less, and the bulk of our recipients were elementary schoolchildren," Brown said. "With the current economic situation, though, some of the older ones are starting to come back."
The fund relies on donations, with the largest contribution -- $50,000 this year -- from the United Way. Local PTAs raise additional funds, "from $3,000 to $10,000 a year -- whatever we can scrounge up," Brown said.
Other organizations have contributed money as well. Television station WJLA, for example, has donated half of the proceeds from the D.C. City Title Basketball Championship games, with the other half going to schools that participate in the games. "We never seem to get enough," said Brown, who noted that the fund budget is whatever they can raise. Last year, that sum totaled about $65,000.
Any student who lives in the District, attends a public school and needs shoes can seek the fund's held. Application is usually made through school guidance counselors.
Emma Carter, a retired principal from Bunker Hill Elementary School, reviews and evaluates the application. A student usually is notified within five days that his application has been accepted, and immediately becomes eligible for the shoes.
Until last year, the approval process was a complicated bureaucratic procedure, but School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie helped in "expediting things tremendously," Brown said. McKenzie, apparently worried that students' needs were being lost in a tangle of red tape, considerably streamlined the procedure, Brown said.
After receiving approval, the student is accompanied by an adult to the Sears store at 2845 Alabama Ave. SE for whatever kind of shoe the child needs for school and a proper fitting. Sears bills the fund monthly for the shoes.
Students needing special shoes because of unusual length, width or corrective problems are brought to Boyce & Lewis Inc. shoe store at 439 Seventh St. NW.
"We try to spread issuance of the shoe tickets for shoe purchases among as many different families as possible," Brown said. "We have a number of families who are on public assistance and who need multiple pairs of shoes at the same time. In cases like that, we usually try to provide for the most needy first -- the younger children."
When more funds are available, families who need them are often given additional pairs of shoes or boots. "In emergencies, we simply apply the funds as the need demands," Brown said.
In emergencies, parents or guardians can apply directly to the Shoe and Rubber Fund's offices, at J.O. Wilson Elementary School at Seventh and K streets NE.
Persons interested in contributing to the fund can send checks to the Shoe and Rubber Fund, Seventh and K streets NE, Washington, D.C., 20002. Contributions are tax deductible.