Skechers donate 1,000 shoes to downtown Portland’s YWCA

Skechers donate 1,000 shoes to downtown Portland’s YWCA

June 12–When kids leave YWCA’s Camp Westwind this year, they’ll take with them a pair of clogs they’ve painted, glittered, stickered, and likely worn throughout camp.

On Tuesday Fred Meyer gave 1,000 pairs of clogs donated by Skechers to downtown-based YWCA of Greater Portland. Every youth camper will receive a pair.

For kids who are low-income, living in shelters or homeless, the clogs will ensure they have a pair of close-toed shoes to wear for activities that require more than flip-flops. For all the kids, they’ll be a memento from a fun week.

“They’re not just shoes, they’re memories,” says Janette Kunkel, Camp Westwind director. “They’ll still have sand in them when they get home.”

In its 76th year, the Camp Westwind Scholarship Fund will cover the $655 cost to attend for about 100 of the 1,100 campers.

Oftentimes, low-income campers have never been to a summer camp or to the Oregon Coast, where the camp is located, YWCA officials say. They, or whoever packed their bag, don’t know what to pack or simply don’t own the right footwear. Inevitably, there are kids who have to admit they don’t have closed-toed shoes for archery, a challenge course, or other activity.

“This helps us get to that point where kids don’t even have to say, ‘I don’t have shoes,'” Kunkel says. “Helping kids avoid shame is really huge for us. We’re here to help them feel like they fit in.”

The shoes — pre-decoration — are black, molded, garden-style clogs (better for rinsing off mud) with an open back and a strap.

Skechers approached Fred Meyer, which sells its shoes, about making a donation, says Zach Stratton, Fred Meyer spokesman. The community likes programs that support youth, he said, so Fred Meyer chose to give the donation to YWCA.

Since 2011 Skechers has donated more than 4 million pairs of shoes to needy children through its BOBS program. BOBS started out as a one-for-one model like TOMS, where a pair is donated for every pair purchased, but “we’ve sold so many pairs it has become difficult to keep up with the donations,” says Lauren Dutko, public relations manager for Skechers. Now BOBS is an avenue for shoe donation, going to victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey and the tornado in Oklahoma, as well as to nonprofits like Camp Westwind, says Dutko, who grew up in Portland and went to the camp.

On Tuesday, a crowd of Camp Westwind counselors unloaded the 1,000 pairs of shoes at YWCA headquarters, offering a window into the camp’s environment: They made up a “we’re moving boxes” song to sing as they moved boxes.

“There’s lots of singing at camp,” says Leslie Bevan, YWCA executive director. “It’s joyful.”

Raya Lieberman, 18, was a camper from seventh grade until she became the camp’s media specialist this year.

“When I started I’d never been to a summer camp,” says Lieberman, from Northeast Portland. “It’s really a great feeling. Everyone gets along; there’s a place for everyone.”

The camp’s goal is to build a sense of community as kids expand their worldviews, officials say. But campers never know who’s there on scholarship and who’s not.

“That’s by design,” Bevan says. “Staff does everything they can to make sure kids aren’t singled out.”

Instead of socioeconomic distinctions, kids see diversity in counselors who come from all over — some this year as far as Scotland and Turkey — and by hanging out with their cabin mates.

“They get to try on who they want to be in a very safe environment,” Bevan says.

— Sara Hottman

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