Floral Avenue Elementary Shoes

Maddie Deason, who is going to start the fifth grade this year at Floral Avenue Elementary, tries on a new pair of shoes Thursday, Aug. 1.

BARTOW – About half of the student population at Floral Avenue Elementary School will be wearing new shoes when school starts this year thanks to Southwest Florida Water Management District staff.

For the second year, SWFWMD had its “Starting Off on the Right Foot Sneaker Challenge” and district employees donated 1,083 pairs of shoes to students in four schools in the district.

Floral Avenue received about 270 pairs of shoes for a school that has about 500 students.

The other schools that received donations include Mort Elementary in Tampa, Alta Vista Elementary in Sarasota and Pine Grove Elementary in Brooksville.

In the contest, employees were asked to donate new pairs of sneakers ranging from youth-size 10 to adult-size nine. The shoes would be donated to Title 1 schools in the district’s 16-county region. A Title 1 school has a student base from lower-income families and gets funding to help students who are behind, or at risk of falling behind with the aim to bridge the gap between low-income students and other students.

The donations from each department were tracked to find which one donated the most.

Michele Sager, the community coordinator for SWFWMD, said in its first year the district donated 600 pairs of shoes and that those pairs were given to two schools in the district. This year, she said, they had a goal of 800. Breaking that goal by more than 200 pairs of shoes, Sager said, showed how the strong the drive was to help people.

“There was a real passion for it,” Sager said.

Sager is also the chairman of the Employee Committee, which came up with the challenge.

For donating the largest amount of shoes, the finance and legal department won a pizza party. Sager said the 40 employees in that department donated more than 300 pairs of shoes.

The focus will be to get them to the students who most need the help, said Floral Avenue Principal Rebekah Eckman.

According to SWFWMD, 74 percent of students in the United States come from low-income families and the need for shoes is great. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 21 million children are served by the Title 1 school program. Of these 21 million, 59 percent were in kindergarten through fifth grade.

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