Imagine 628 pairs of shoes and socks and the ear-to-ear smiles of the boys and girls who skip out the door feeling more confident with every step. Blue Skies for Children’s Shoe Give Program just closed their eight-week distribution period. The non-profit organization supports up to five children per family and according to Executive Director, Julie Guay, “The program continues to grow every year.” In order to meet the growing needs of Whatcom County’s disadvantaged youth community, Blue Skies for Children’s pop up stores and coordinated distribution efforts get footwear to those who need their services most.
Some of the children who walk through the organization’s door are in dire need of supportive footwear. “This last year,” Guay shared, “we had an 8th grade girl come in (her counselor brought her in from school). She came in wearing slippers because she didn’t own any shoes that fit her.” To supply support from the roots up requires local company and group sponsored donations, a dedicated staff and all the behind the scenes planning that gives many of Whatcom County’s underprivileged children the chance to feel grounded.
“Kids have come in to our office in their bare feet and in flip flops in the pouring rain,” Guay said. “We have a distribution period that lasts eight weeks. Then we’ll pull out shoes for them,” said Guay. Blues Skies for Children continues to focus on homeless, low-income and foster children all year long, while still facilitating their annual Shoe Give Program.
Supported locally by Bellingham Bay Rotary, Women Sharing Hope and Superfeet, the Shoe Give distribution period lasted this year from April 3 through May 25. For the last eight years, Blue Skies for Children has given athletic shoes to thousands of children. Last year the organization distributed 535 brand new pairs of shoes and socks, some smaller donations were collected from from youth themselves.
High school students through Christ The King Community Church’s youth group facilitated a sock drive for Blue Skies for Children and other local groups have contributed generous donations over the years. Guay explained, “Many kids get shoes when they start school in the fall but by the time they hit spring, a lot of those kids have grown out of the shoes they started school with.” Guay pointed out that children spurt up quickly and that springtime sports and outdoor activities are much more enjoyable with athletic shoes that are properly suited to vigorous activities.
Blue Skies distribution programs aren’t exclusive to shoes alone. Last year, in their first formal year of distribution for their Back to School Backpack program, Guay said the organization distributed 410 backpacks. This year, backpacks will be distributed between August 1 and September 21. “We work in tandem with the Bellingham School District and their distribution programs that extend into other school districts,” said Guay.
This year, the non-profit expects 500-600 backpacks to go out the door. Donations come from the community at large and Blue Skies for Children’s local business donations. Guay conveyed her excitement after just receiving confirmation that Women Sharing Hope will be gifting $600 toward the backpack program. These donations allow the organization to buy the backpacks through online wholesalers for $5-$11 versus $20-$60 retail, depending on the size of the backpacks. Usually the organization spends approximately $11 per backpack for larger bags between 19-20 inches (ideal for high school students) and slightly less for smaller bags that go to elementary and middle school students.
Blue Skies for Children serves children all year long with programs like One Time Little Wishes, Little Wishes Enrichment Program, and Instrument Loaner programs. Blue Skies for Children offers seasonal programs distributing shoes, backpacks and during Winter Warm Up, hats, gloves, scarves and coats. They utilize pop-up stores and eight-week distribution windows to facilitate and maintain other year-round programming.
Blue Skies for Children also supports enrichment programs like the Josh Fueston Swim to Live program, which gives swimmers lessons and swim therapy, and the Driver’s Education Scholarship Program that provides 15-17 year olds the ultimate freedom of learning how to drive. They are the foster distribution arm for Mattress Firm’s Foster Kids Program in Whatcom County. This all takes a skilled balance of time and funding management. Thankfully for the children, Blue Skies for Children’s dedicated part-time staff, board members and sponsors are excellent at putting spring back into children’s steps.