What started out as a simple shoe drive turned into a fundraising event the whole community was involved in.
Five pairs of shoes.
That’s how many pairs third grader Justin Rubin predicted his class would collect for the Soles4Souls shoe drive at Osage Elementary School.
Even Caitlin Peluszak, special education teacher, predicted they would collect only 50 pairs of shoes when the drive started March 27.
But when officers from the Voorhees Police Department arrived at the school Monday, June 5 to transport the shoes to a donation center, the class had collected 1,148 pairs.
“I think the kids were going to be surprised no matter what, but they were shocked when the collection ended and saw our closet filled literally to the ceiling,” Peluszak said.
Five students of Peluszak’s class were involved in the process as much as possible.
Their responsibilities included going from classroom to classroom each week to collect shoes, giving reminder announcements on the morning news and counting the shoes, among other tasks.
“I learned how to count higher than 30,” said 8-year-old Lana DiGiacomo, who said counting the shoes was her favorite part. The students answered questions with verbal support from their teachers.
Soles4Souls is a non-profit organization with the goal of providing people in need with shoes and clothing all over the world. Since its creation in 2006, it has distributed more than 30 million pairs of shoes.
“We tried to make the process as functional as possible for them and to incorporate workplace ready skills,” Peluszak said.
The students saw their hard work pay off in many ways.
First, they got to work alongside Voorhees police officers to load the bags of shoes into the police van.
“My favorite part was helping the police officer put the shoes in the truck so he can deliver them,” 9-year-old Ruby Gluck said.
Second, the class will be featured on NJTV’s “Classroom Close-up,” a television show that highlights creative projects in schools. The camera crew came to the school to film the kids working on the shoe drive for a day.
“The kids couldn’t stop talking about being on TV,” Peluszak said.
The episode will air Dec. 17 and Jan. 21, at 7:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The third way their hard work paid off? They got to help other kids.
“Yes, they’re going to the kids because they don’t have any shoes,” Ruby said when asked if she was excited about the donations.
The kids weren’t the only ones surprised by the drive’s success. Peluszak recalled tallying the number of shoes on the chalkboard, and raising the goal every day.
“I can’t describe how proud I am of these kids,” Peluszak said. “They’re the kids who are constantly stumbling and struggling to succeed at the task they were given. Not only did they succeed here, but blew away all expectations.”
As for next year, Peluszak feels they have exhausted Voorhees’ resource of shoes, but is looking into other community service projects the kids can get involved in. She will be looking into a project that will help the community while teaching new skills, like this one.
“I wasn’t the least bit concerned they wouldn’t succeed, but even I had no idea how well they would do,” Peluszak said.
When they succeed again next year, no one will be surprised.