June 26, 2019

If the shoe fits

Kayla Tinucci would never want to walk a mile in the shoes of the disadvantaged children she has vowed to help.

“Their feet would be squeezing into shoes that were way too small for them,” she said. “I would pull off the shoes of one boy to measure his feet, and his toes uncurled because they had been in shoes that were too small.”

That’s exactly why Tinucci, 16, founded the Shoe Crew in June with her brother Justin. The small group of about 15 youthful volunteers has devoted itself to collecting new athletic footwear for area kids who can’t afford them. So far, they’ve amassed more than 3,100 pairs, earning them a national feature in the weekly classroom newsmagazine TIME for Kids.

Shoe recipients have included kids at A Place Called Home (a South Los Angeles safe haven for underserved children) and those affected by Hurricane Sandy. (They sent more than 200 pairs of shoes to New York on a truck full of supplies deployed by actress Kirstie Alley, and there are plans to send more.) 

Next up is a Dec. 8 event at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, where the group will distribute shoes to children from Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times.

Tinucci said she got the idea after collecting items for a project operating out of A Place Called Home that outfits disadvantaged youths with free clothes for prom. The same organization had a back-to-school event, and it wasn’t long before she was off and running with her own effort to help provide shoes for it.

Free shoes may sound like a little thing, but it’s not to the person receiving them. The Santa Clarita teen recalls one event when a line of children wearing patched-up and ill-fitting shoes stretched around the block four hours ahead of time. 

“Sometimes they come hobbling in. When they leave, they’re jumping and skipping, because they can finally walk and they’re comfortable in their shoes,” she said.

Part of what makes the experience so worthwhile for Shoe Crew members is seeing the impact of their work firsthand.

“I really loved the fact that you can actually go deliver the shoes,” said Jessica Keegan, 17. “You actually get to see who you’re helping.”

The experience has been eye opening and humbling for her.

“When I outgrow a pair of shoes, my mom gives me a new pair of shoes that fit. These kids are wearing shoes that they’ve outgrown, that have been patched up, that have been passed down,” said Keegan, who splits her time between living in Toluca Lake and San Rafael, Calif., where she and her sister Olivia are starting their own chapter of the group.

“Every time I go out to the store … every time I ask my mom to get me something new, you look at it in a different way,” Jessica Keegan said. “It’s made me look at my life and see how fortunate I am.”

Olivia Keegan, 13, said she can still see the faces of the children they helped at an event in Long Beach for homeless children.

From left: Jessica Keegan, 17, and sister Olivia Keegan, 13, at a preschool for homeless children in October.

“It really touched my heart. Their faces just lit up,” she said. “This one little girl, she was so sweet. She seemed just to take everything and be so thankful for it. Then I realized that I sometimes take all these things for granted: my shoes, my clothes.”

It got better.

“Her mom afterward came
up to me and said, ‘Thanks so much,’ ” Olivia Keegan said. “I just realized how good it felt to do something good and give back.”

The Shoe Crew is a local chapter of the national organization Shoes That Fit and seeks donations through a variety of means. The public can contribute financially online at theshoecrew-org.webs.com or bring new children’s shoes of any size to one of the group’s events, for which the entrance fee is generally a pair of shoes. 

The volunteers have found corporate help as well. Vlado Footwear matched the first 1,150 pairs of shoes that were donated, and Sky High Sports trampoline park in Costa Mesa offered patrons an hour’s admission in exchange for one pair of shoes.

There’s celebrity support, too, with involvement from young television actors Dylan Riley Snyder of “Kickin’ It” and Allisyn Arm of “So Random!”

It’s hard to argue with the results. In addition to the thousands of shoes it has collected, the Shoe Crew has raised more than $15,000 that will be used to purchase more footwear.

For now, the Show Crew remains small — mostly a collection of the Tinuccis, their friends and industry acquaintances. (Justin Tinucci is an actor.) But they have plans for expansion. Starting with socks.

“We are moving to expand to other articles of clothing,” Kayla Tinucci said. “There’s a huge need. Lots of [the kids] wear shoes with no socks, and we want to help them.”