In between the bags of children’s footwear and cabinets filled with tagged, organized pairs of shoes, the “Tag Team” was hard at work.

Volunteers sat at long work tables, organizing brightly colored tennis shoes by size, style and whether they’ll work for boys or girls. They put special tags on each pair and set them out to be carefully arranged in storage shelves.

The workers didn’t have much room to move around; so many shoes had been donated that Barb Olmstead’s Greenwood garage was stuffed to the point of overflowing.

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“We’re going to run out of room, so we’re working on putting everything away,” Olmstead said.

Eventually, the footwear will be delivered to schools throughout central Indiana. The goal is to ensure that every kid has a reliable, comfortable pair of shoes this school year.

Shoe Closets, a Greenwood-based nonprofit organization, is gearing up for what likely will be the biggest year in the group’s history. Last year, volunteers and donors provided more than 3,000 pairs to schools in Johnson and Marion counties, more than double the approximately 1,500 they gave out in 2015-16.

By establishing a steady supply of shoes at schools that need them, the group has presented an easy fix for a potentially embarrassing situation.

“Otherwise, some adult has to see the need and call us. That can take days where a child doesn’t have shoes. This way, they can go, get the shoes and give them directly to the child,” Olmstead said.

Shoe Closets was founded by Olmstead in 2011, an offshoot of a project of her Bible study group at Community Church of Greenwood. The goal was to do something for students who needed new footwear but their parents couldn’t afford shoes.

The group started raising money and buying pairs of shoes for Greenwood schools. Eventually, they expanded into Indianapolis elementary schools as well.

Olmstead has been amazed at the growth of the program. At the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the organization had partnered with seven schools. That number grew to 19 schools last year, and Olmstead is anticipating having 25 Shoe Closets this year.

A majority of the participating buildings are in Indianapolis. Schools that qualify for the Shoe Closets need to have at least 85 percent of the student body eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. These are students whose families struggle with extreme poverty, Olmstead said.

Northeast Elementary School in Greenwood has been part of the program since it started, and the two newest to take part are Webb and Northwood elementary schools in Franklin.

Schools working with the group designate shelving or a small closet to store about 100 pairs of shoes. Organizers have two or three pairs of both boys and girls shoes in different styles and in every size from 11 up to 7.

Volunteers work with a designated parent involvement educator, who is the liaison between the schools and Shoe Closets. Those same people monitor the closets and restock what has been distributed to the students.

“We call them runners. They go out to the schools once a month to see what’s been given away. Then they come back here and fill that information with what we have stored here,” Olmstead said.

In order to start a Shoe Closet in a local school, an initial donation of $3,000 is needed. Organizers use $1,000 to purchase 200 pairs of shoes to stock the closet, and the other $2,000 ensures the closet stays operational throughout the year, Olmstead said.

Individuals, civic organizations and other groups have pledged to sponsor individual schools. Having sponsors in place ensures a seamless supply of shoes, Olmstead said.

“What I’ve really discovered is that if 10 people give $300 a year, we can open another school. That’s pretty cool,” she said. “As long as we have that support from the community, we can open a lot of schools.”

At a glance

Shoe Closets Inc.

What: A Greenwood-based nonprofit group raising money to buy new shoes for needy children in area schools.

Founded: 2011

Shoes provided in 2016-2017: More than 3,000 pairs

Schools working with: 20

How to help

Be a:

  • Sprinter: Give a tax-deductible gift, to be used to replenish the shoe closets with socks and shoes as needed.
  • Relay Runner: Conduct monthly shoe inventory and deliver shoes to a school.
  • Team Member: For $240, you can become a member of a 10-person team to open a new school.
  • Mini Marathon Runner: $2,000 tax deductible gift will fund the maintenance of an established school for one year. This includes replenishing the school’s shoe closet with more than 170 new pairs of shoes throughout the year.
  • Marathon Runner: $3,000 tax deductible gift will fund a new closet at a school. These funds will provide start-up and maintenance cost for the new school. This includes stocking the school’s shoe closet with approximately 200 pairs of shoes, sizes 11-13 and 1-7.

Information or to donate: ShoeClosets.org or facebook.com/ShoeClosetCharity

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.