Giving Back

THE SOLE OF LAS VEGAS: Ex-NFL player and wife distribute footwear to kids in need

Heads up — the Feet Fleet’s in.

“Layla, how are you, honey? You ready for new shoes? Alright!” says volunteer Rick Lefever to the grade school girl before him at the mouth of a 48-foot trailer. Inside, its generic innards have been transformed into a footwear fantasia wrapped in rainbows, brimming with sneakers of every hue and shade, as if soaked in a river of Crayola — and parked at the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School playground.

“What’s your favorite color?” the off-the-clock, Golden Nugget count room manager asks her, right now more concerned with shoe flair than cash flow. Stooped over, he strains to hear her whispery answer.

“Purple? All right!”

Exiting at the other end, little Santiago has found the perfect pair of sneakers and practically skips toward another volunteer, who checks the fit by gently pinching the tip of the sneakers to ensure his diminutive digits aren’t smushed against the fabric. Except something’s not quite right. There’s no smushing, but …

“I think they’re on the wrong foot!” the volunteer exclaims with a chortle, as Santiago looks down blankly at his feet.

Left? Right? What’s the diff? Two feet, two sneakers, all’s well, right?

Welcome to distribution day courtesy of the cutely-but-aptly named Goodie Two Shoes Foundation. Initiated 15 years ago, this nonprofit slips spiffy new footwear — shoes and socks — on the feet of around 400 needy children per event in its traveling shoe emporium, at a different school each week.

“We started out as a one-day event in 2003 and by February (of 2019), we will have outfitted over 100,000 children in Clark County,” says ex-San Diego Charger offensive lineman Tony Berti, co-founder of the foundation with his wife, Nikki, who points out that the enterprise addresses a physical necessity, but pays motivational dividends.

“We want children to come in and pick out a pair of shoes they might see on their friends who can afford shoes,” Nikki Berti says. “It’s about empowering kids with choice, seeing what it feels like to make a positive choice and we hope they parlay that into other decisions they make, whether it’s doing their homework or just doing the right thing.”

“When you see a kid who has been sharing a pair of shoes with his uncle that are seven sizes too big and he has six pairs of socks on, and then the confidence they have walking out of here, they just light up.” — Carson Fisher, strategic operations director, Goodie Two Shoes Foundation
This right thing — a cornucopia of Converse, Skechers, Vans, Nike and Adidas, among other sneaker superstars — arose from the Bertis’ participation in a Chargers-hosted event, in which the team bused San Diego kids to a Payless store to pick out fab foot adornments they couldn’t otherwise dream of lacing up. “It was a super-impactful event for us,” Nikki Berti says. 

“Tony grew up like one of the kids we would have served, low-income with not a lot of choices in his life. I grew up in a small town with not a lot of exposure to poverty. When we worked on that event, I was shocked to see the kids were so excited to get a basic necessity. When Tony retired, I said I wanted to bring that home to Las Vegas.”

Kindergartners through 12th graders, identified by need by school officials and social service agencies, are served by the foundation. Gathering its trailer-stuffed shoe stock of 1,200 pairs per month, with about 3,000 available per weekly event, the foundation negotiates special rates with manufacturers and distributors, and accepts donations. Those include largess from the Las Vegas resort corridor, including from corporate donors such as MGM Resorts International, local companies including Zappos.com, and visiting conventions. Click here for a list and additional information.

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A student has the fit of his Star Wars themed shoes checked during the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation event at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School Thursday, December 20, 2018. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

“We know exactly what we’ve distributed, and replace it in that trailer so that the last child that goes through has the same choice as the first child. It’s very important that they have that wide selection,” Tony Berti says, noting that shoes are a “visible form of poverty.” Some children, he says, wear pairs that are held in fragile place with duct tape, which can discourage children from wanting to even show up for class.

“Many people don’t know that in many families in this city, there are three generations of people wearing those same shoes. Just having a brand-new pair, the impact on that child is huge.”   

Currents of excitement buzz through the morning scene, buoyed by a nearly festival atmosphere. Rows of grade-schoolers line up behind orange cones like miniature marathoners, awaiting their sprint up to the trailer and through the carefully orchestrated procedures overseen by 75 volunteers. 

Prepped by Nikki Bertis, the volunteers are informed that some kids want $300 pairs of Air Jordans, which they do not offer because of their high-end, status-symbol worth, which could put kids at risk in their neighborhood.

“They tend to shut down because they don’t deal with disappointment very well,” she tells them, suggesting volunteers encourage and entice kids with all the other name brands they can skip away wearing.  “And know that some of these kids have never, ever had a new pair of shoes and it can be overwhelming. They might think they’re making the wrong choice, and might want to try on 30 pairs. Some of you will have that experience today.”

Once the lines of little ones start streaming forward, the trailer starts seriously rockin’. Kids and grownups crowd together side by side, back to back and shoulder to shoulder, pulling boxes, catching that whiff of new-shoe smell, gaping at footwear in every hue the imagination can conjure.

“I work swing shift,” says Cosmopolitan cocktail waitress Latoya Kelly, wearing a wide grin while kids scamper behind her, her job today to keep order on line. “The Cosmopolitan is really good with work out in the community. I came one day after work. I got off at 3:30 a.m. and I showed up and I’ve been here ever since. I volunteer with them every day (of an event) so I’m a little tired, but once I get here, the kids wake me up.”

 “We hope people want to come and volunteer because as we’re pulling out of here in the trailer and you see them playing at recess, that sense of joy you get seeing them so happy — you just have to experience it.” — Carson Fisher. 
Several feet beyond her at the door of the trailer, volunteer Lefever continues to kibbitz with the kids as he ushers them inside. “It’s really an amazing thing to do to give back to the community and see how happy they are to get something as little as shoes,” he says.

Happy? Try ecstatic, as evidenced by little Valerie, who has fallen head-over-new-heels not only for brand spanking new footwear — of which she tries on numerous pairs — but over her volunteer shoe salesman, Madison Alexander. She’s climbing on his shoulders. Leaping on his head. Hanging off his back. Knocking his ball cap sideways. Squealing with delight.

“Being a conduit of them getting these new shoes, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” says Alexander, a local trade show host on his seventh Two Shoes event. “Sometimes the kids come in, they see the shoe they like, it’s the right size, boom. Some of them, you’re negotiating and bargaining and trying to figure out what they like. But it’s all about the interaction in between.”

Occasionally, bad-pun clichés can be reborn as fresh, relevant wisdom — as is one on this day, on this playground, in the faces of these newly proud kids: There’s no business like shoe business.

To volunteer, visit https://goodietwoshoes.org/volunteering/

 

To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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by Steve Bornfeld/Las Vegas Newswire

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