Saving Soles: Leadership students across districts join forces for Operation SOS shoe drive

By Valerie Shelton, Editor

Running shoes can be expensive. Rather than foot the bill of $150 to $250 for the proper pair, instead many young athletes in Clovis and the surrounding communities choose to use a cheaper, less supportive pair.

Mackenzie Mora, the Associated Student Body (ASB) Athletic Commissioner at Buchanan High School, said having shoes without the necessary support is unhealthy and can lead to shin splits. That is why Mora started a campaign to help students who can’t afford the proper footwear.

Operation Save Our Soles (SOS) is a shoe drive across the districts of Clovis Unified and Fresno Unified, which Mora and leadership students from other area high school campuses launched in February. Within a month, Operation SOS, was able to collect three boxes of athletic shoes which Mora and other students behind the campaign donated to the Pinedale Boys and Girls Club on Saturday, March 19. Those three heaping boxes of shoes, however, are just the beginning of the students’ efforts.

As a track and cross country athlete, Mora said she knows just how important it is to have a good pair of shoes.

“We help out at the middle school meets and I noticed that many of those kids and kids in general don’t have good shoes to run in,” Mora said. “I know how it feels to have bad shoes because if I don’t run in the right shoes, I get shin splints and that’s not fun. I know that elementary and middle school kids don’t run as much as we do in high school, but they still need something good to run in or even just walk around in and I got the idea to do this drive because a lot of us [high school track athletes] get rid of our shoes in two months. They are practically brand new. We buy them and we don’t even use them because we don’t like them for some reason, maybe they aren’t as comfortable as we would like or something. I thought, why not donate these shoes to someone who would use them.”

It didn’t take long for Mora’s idea to transform into a reality. After sharing it with her family, her mom Donna Mora encouraged her to contact her leadership friends from other campuses to see if they would be interested in helping with a shoe drive. She contacted the ASB Athletic Commissioner at Clovis West and her friend and leadership student Jake Hansen at Edison High School and from there, other leadership students got involved. Currently the Operation SOS board has eight members, Mora represents Buchanan; Anthony Lee and Tori Coles represent Clovis High; Hansen represents Edison; Lilly Vang represents Clovis East; Zach Bethel represents Clovis West; and Devin Fiorentino represents Clovis North.

Hansen said it was a no-brainer for him to get involved.

“Mackenzie texted me about it and I was already 100 percent down,” Hansen said. “At Edison they have the track meets for all the little kids and they are all running in their Vans and that is Ok when you are a little kid but once you get older and you start to run a lot more it is really not healthy and we just want to help younger athletes succeed.”

As someone who has ran in his Vans before, Lee said he was also glad to jump onboard with the project.

“Initially, I heard about this through our spirit and athletics commissioner at Clovis High,” Lee said. “She contacted me and thought it would be a good idea to extend it to the school as a unique community service project and I thought it was a great idea and a great way to give back to the community. I was one of those kids who would be running in their Vans or some off-brand shoes and they were really hard to run in and your shoes get torn up more that way so I thought this was a good idea that would benefit a lot of kids.”

Mora said the Operation SOS board decided to donate the shoes they are collecting to the Pinedale Boys and Girls Club because it’s an organization she was familiar with that serves kids in both Clovis Unified and Fresno Unified.

Tony Garcia, the director for the Pinedale Boys and Girls Club, said the donations from Operation SOS will have a ripple effect, as the Boys and Girls Club’s Key Stone leadership team plans to expand it and share the shoes with other Boys and Girls Clubs in the county.

“We have kids here who will certainly benefit from this, but we have 21 clubs now in Fresno County and we now work under the umbrella of the Boys and Girls Club of Fresno County so there are hundreds of teens that we can reach,” Garcia said. “We love to accept them, but just these boxes are far more than we can use ourselves so the plan for us is to take some of our leadership kids and combine this with a program called Jeans for Teens and then have these shoes for teens as well, so we are piggy-banking off of this amazing thing that Operation SOS is doing for the kids and we’re trying to expand on it and make it a Boys and Girls Club of Fresno County project. Right now, we have all the clubs collecting shoes and jeans for teens who are in need. I was talking to our leadership kids here and they got excited about it so we are looking to expand it at least among the clubs.”

Donation boxes are set up at each high school campus in Clovis Unified, as well as at Edison High School. There is also a donation box at Fleet Feet on Fort Washington Road in Fresno.

“Fleet Feet has been a huge help,” Mora said. “It’s actually right across the street from my house and I get all my shoes in there and cross country runners are mostly known in there because they have all the things that we like. I noticed they had other donations for things and this was a good way to put the word out to runners in the community because they have a running program for adults there and I know adults would love to donate their shoes.

“There are adult sizes and kid sizes and hopefully we find some feet to fit them.”

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