NEW BLOOMFIELD, Mo. — During a recent January school day, 35 New Bloomfield Elementary School students were surprised with pairs of fresh new kicks.
The scene in Principal Julie Mitchem's office was hectic — she describes a stream of excited children and dozens of shoe boxes, all paired with the smell of feet.
"My office was filled with shoes," Mitchem said at the New Bloomfield R-3 School District Board of Education's January meeting. "I don't even know how many pairs of shoes there were in my office — all I know is shoe boxes and tissue paper were flying everywhere."
Thanks to a $2,000 grant and the efforts of teacher Savannah Kaskus, the students each went home with a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of winter boots.
"Maureen Kokoska at the Columbia Elks Lodge offered to help me write a grant through the Elks Club to help my school," Kaskus said.
Kaskus began looking for an opportunity to help New Bloomfield students as a part of her master's degree work.
"I've had the ability to work with her quite a bit on some different projects this year," Mitchem said. "I'm really proud of how far she's come."
She went to Mitchem with the idea of purchasing coats for students, but the two decided shoes were needed more.
At the rate children grow, shoes bought during back-to-school season might not fit the same at this time of year. And other local efforts already help provide coats for children in need.
"We knew we had to buy brand new because they wear down," Kaskus said.
Kaskus was busy teaching when Mitchem brought students into her office to surprise them, but Mitchem made sure to share photos with her.
"It feels really good to help someone who can't help themselves," Kaskus said.
Mitchem said the children were excited to show off their new shoes.
"The snow boots were oh-so-awesome," Mitchem said. "They love the snow boots, and they had to wear them and then they would come back later and go, 'My feet are sweating really bad, can I have my tennis shoes?' Yes, you can have your tennis shoes — and then they would go out to recess. They're like, 'I don't want to get my new ones dirty. Can I have my old ones?'"
Mitchem said she can't help but smile.
"It's so heartwarming," she said. "And to see genuine appreciation for something as simple as a pair of shoes."
Kaskus said some of the grant money helped buy shoes for children at Blue Ridge Elementary in Columbia as well.
"I'm actually hoping this is something we could do every year for New Bloomfield to keep the tradition of getting new shoes," Kaskus said.