Scherese Brown, 7, meticulously tied the long, white laces on her new beige running shoes. She lifted one foot, then the other, and began a close inspection, swiveling each foot for a better view of the sides, back and bottom. Then she looked up and whispered "thank you" to the smiling adults around her.
Scherese, along with her sister Helen Simms, 6, and her brother Lamont Simms, 11, was among 3,000 District youngsters from needy families who received new athletic shoes yesterday at the second annual Shoes for Children day sponsored by the Adolph Coors beer company at the D.C. Armory.
For most of the day the armory, on East Capitol Street, usually the site of weekend National Guard maneuvers, became a giant shoe store with mothers, fathers and grandparents helping children try on shoes in sizes ranging from toddler 11 to adult 12.
"I don't buy Coors beer," said Lucille Clarke, who had accompanied Scherese and her two other grandchildren from their home near Lincoln Park to the Armory. "I drink another brand. But I feel good knowing that they care. I usually buy the kids dress shoes, but it is these tennis shoes that they love."
Washington was one of four major cities selected by Coors for the shoe giveaway, said beer company spokeswoman Rusty Jackson. Today the event will be repeated in Baltimore with 2,000 shoes, Jackson said.
Washington was chosen "because we do business here, we sell a lot of beer here," Jackson explained.
Coors spent $50,000 to purchase and ship the 5,000 pairs of shoes, she said. Three hundred and fifty volunteers, many of them from the D.C. Department of Human Services, registered children and then helped fit them with shoes ranging in color from army green to navy blue to white.
Ernestina Nunez, 10, selected a pair of white shoes. "I like the way they fit," she said, cradling the shoes in her arms. "These are too expensive for us to buy. I like them very much."
Her sister Erica, 5, and her brother Julio, 6, danced about the Armory floor in their new shoes. Both too shy to speak English, they allowed their big sister to speak to volunteer Eunice Taylor for them.
"Julio wants to know if you have any toys for him," she said smiling at her brother as he darted among the chairs set up for the shoe fittings.
Their mother Maria Nunez, a native of Nicaragua who lives in an apartment in Woodley Park, said, "This is very nice for the kids for Christmas. These are good shoes. I'd buy them the same brands if I could afford to."
Taylor, an administrative assistant with the human services agency, said that she and fellow volunteer Barbara Ferrell, coordinator of the Mayor's Youth Leadership Institute, had fitted about 30 pairs of shoes in four hours.
"I feel good doing this," said Taylor. "This doesn't feel like a giveaway or a charity."
When Ferrell could not find the right size for one youngster, "I just told him to take the next larger size and wear two pairs of socks or wait for summer and they'd fit him just fine. And as to color, we have a rule that says you take what fits. Every last family we have seen really needed the shoes, so we don't get many complaints."
Some of the families were surprised to find Effi Barry, wife of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and vice president of the public relations firm that represents Coors in this area, on her knees helping the children try on shoes.
"Children need shoes and clothing, anything that keeps them warm," said Barry. "That is why we didn't do toys. But I worry about the other children that we didn't reach today who also need shoes."
Barry said that her firm decided to have each child fitted rather than just handing them shoes in a box because "we want to preserve a sense of dignity. These kids and their families have pride. We speak to each child. I say to each one, 'You must have been a good girl or boy to get these nice shoes.' "