Sporting a new identity, The Sneaker Project carries on a tradition of providing for some of Mid-Missouri’s neediest children.
Until the middle of March, the organization — which has a long history of serving Mid-Missouri — was known as the Dental, Eye and Shoe Program. But, as community health centers began providing dental and vision services — often through Medicaid — the program began to shrink.
The organization recently hired Lorie Smith as a new part-time executive director and reorganized its board of directors, bringing in new faces.
Smith and Bev Bisges, president of the board, responded to a number of questions about the new organization. Questions and answers were edited for length and clarity.
Q. What is The Sneaker Project’s mission?
A. It’s pretty simple — to provide shoes for children from kindergarten through 12th grade in Cole, Moniteau, Osage and Miller counties. The project focuses on students who are on free and reduced-pride lunch programs. We think we’ll provide socks at the same time. Socks fit a number of different shoe sizes. We hope to provide a supply of socks to whoever is distributing.
The project has begun drop-shipping ordered shoes for specific students to the schools, where the shoes are distributed.
Q. What is the need in our area?
A. Just in Jefferson City Public Schools — and some parochial schools — free and reduced-pride lunch, there are 5,519 kids that would qualify for our program. At $30 for a pair of shoes, we are serving 500 kids (each year). We haven’t even talked about Miller, Moniteau and Osage counties. So there’s a ridiculous need.
People say the numbers blow their minds — how can we have that many kids on free and reduced-pride lunch? But we do.
Data show that 789 students at Jefferson City High School qualify for free or reduced-pride lunches. Simonsen 9th Grade Center has 429; Lewis and Clark Elementary School, 572; Thomas Jefferson Middle School, 586; and Thorpe Gordon Elementary School, 334. All the schools have some need.
Q. Where does the funding for your organization come from?
A. Most of it comes from the United Way. We received the last grant from the Council of Clubs. We have received grants from other organizations. Parent-teacher organizations help support us.
Q. Do you have plans for some fundraising events?
A. We’ve never had a fundraiser. We are excited about creating fundraisers for our organization. We can’t expect the United Way to be our only support. We have some fun ideas and think a walk would be perfect. We have created a fundraising committee. That’s going to be their focus — particularly getting the community involved with us.
We accept cash donations. (Thirty dollars will buy a pair of shoes.) You really don’t want people to buy and donate shoes because that doesn’t do anyone any good. They don’t know what sizes or styles to buy. We can’t store shoes. That’s why we get the information for each individual student from nurses at schools and order and drop-ship shoes to the schools.
Q. Finding information on the Dental, Eye and Shoe Program proved difficult. What are you doing to improve transparency?
A. We have acquired (the web page title) thesneakerproject.org and are developing a website. We also are developing a Facebook page. Financials will be available. The project remains a 501(c)(3) organization. We’ll fill out all the paperwork to change the name. The United Way of Central Missouri approved our name and mission change.
Q. How can people get involved in your organization?
A. Stay tuned for our fundraiser. We’re going to have a fundraiser for sure. If we do the socks this year — and we don’t know when we’re going to start that — we’ll announce it on Facebook. Like us on Facebook to find out what’s coming up.
Now, we have a focus. Our focus is shoes. If you want to help the program, donate $30. Thirty dollars buys a kid a pair of shoes. People will be able to go to our website and donate.
Q. What percentage of the organization’s revenue has been used for administration?
A. Historically, it was probably close to 10 percent (when it was staffed by all volunteers). Now, we have administration, and it’s about 23 percent.