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David Wright, center, and other volunteers help students try on shoes in the Jackson Elementary School gymnasium Thursday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Twinkle toes

Daisia Hayes found herself facing an all-too-common predicament as she sat in the Jackson Elementary gym Thursday morning.

"I like this pair a lot," the fifth-grader said, holding up a black-sneaker-clad foot for inspection. "But it's not in my size."

Across the gym, flanked by tables loaded with pairs of shoes, kids were testing out their finds, comparing with their friends and showing their teachers. They floated around with multicolored candy canes that gradually stained mouths blue and green.

At one point, the third-grade class formed a teacher-led flash mob as a thank-you to the volunteers and donors who made the giveaway happen.

Among those honored with the mass dance were Melissa Mayne and Danielle Jensen, two catalysts for the event which grew to include about a dozen community partners across several industries. Mayne is founder of the Compassion Highway Project, which organizes outreach to assist and employ people experiencing homelessness, and Jensen is Jackson's parent outreach coordinator.

The seed was planted in Mayne's mind to organize a shoe and sock giveaway when she encountered Jensen, whom she previously knew, at Payless ShoeSource buying shoes for Jackson's shoe closet.

Jackson Elementary is one of Medford's elementary schools that qualifies for Title I funding. All of Medford's 11 Title I schools (including Kids Unlimited) use their allocated funds for school-wide programs, based on a threshold of at least 40 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches. In addition, at Jackson, 15 percent of students are considered homeless according to state guidelines, Title I coordinator September Flock said.

Jensen said many Jackson students need shoes year-round, though it is particularly urgent in the cold-weather season. The school runs a Family Neighborhood Center that supplies students and families with needed materials, including shoes. But, she said, teachers often chip in their own money to cover costs, and not all students take advantage, possibly because of embarrassment.

"We've always struggled with keeping shoes on our kids' feet," she said.

Mayne's idea to hold a schoolwide giveaway eliminated any possible embarrassment, because every student would participate, but they still needed help to secure enough pairs for all. That's where Shannon Hall, the principal managing broker at RE/MAX Platinum, stepped in to help.

Hall learned through a news article about the need for shoes and socks for students. She contacted Jensen and learned about Compassion Highway's plans to throw a giveaway party. Hall then rallied RE/MAX partners, including Hayden Homes, CPM Property Management and Butler Auto, among others, to donate to a big shoe purchase from Fred Meyer, which also donated through discounts and a $250 contribution.

Hall said RE/MAX wants this to be an annual event, perhaps held at other schools, which was affirmed by Mayne.

"It's a nice day for the kids to not stress over whether their feet will be warm tomorrow," Hall said.

Beyond practicality, the organizers also wanted to ensure the event would be fun. Hence, the myriad styles and sizes among the nearly 300 pairs, the "Finding Dory" themed Christmas tree and a guest appearance by Santa, courtesy of Steve Sprinkle.

"When I'm around town as Santa, I hear lots of kids tell me that all they want for Christmas is a new pair of shoes," Sprinkle said. "It's a little heartbreaking sometimes."

For that day, though, Jackson students had a gym full of options available to them. Compassion Highway volunteer Tonia Stanfield said a highlight was watching the boys stomping their feet immediately after donning light-up shoes, a trend among kids' footwear that has yet to die in its coolness.

"It's neat to see what a little light-up shoe can do," she said.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay

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