TERRE HAUTE —
“I love Puma,” said a girl’s small voice from under a large, red and black “Angry Bird” baseball cap.
The Meadows Elementary student with a long, braided pony tail, held up one foot in a bright pink sock as Amy Lichtenberger, a volunteer with the Terre Haute Women’s Club, worked to find the right-fitting shoe.
“I love pink,” the girl, a fourth-grader, told the volunteers.
After a few failures to find the right size, finally the young girl was fitted with a brand new pair of clean, white tennis shoes and proudly wore them back into her school. The shoes were especially visible as the girl’s blue jeans failed to cover her ankles.
It was another success for the Shoe Bus, an outreach of the Terre Haute Women’s Club.
“We had a light run today,” said Imogene Roberts, who has volunteered with the Shoe Bus since the 1980s. Some days the club gives new tennis shoes to up to 50 kids in Vigo County schools. On this fall day, they distributed about 10 pairs.
The Shoe Bus travels once or twice a week from school to school in Vigo County, wherever young people are in need of new shoes. Sometimes the need is great.
Many children from needy families come to school in shoes borrowed from brothers or sisters, said Nancy Hofmann, secretary at the front desk at Meadows, which gets a visit from the Shoe Bus about three times a month. Other times, their shoes are held together with duct tape or are simply falling apart, she said.
The kids are called to the school’s front desk and then learn the Shoe Bus has arrived, Hofmann said.
“They love it. They get so excited when they know they’re getting shoes from the Shoe Bus,” Hofmann said. The students also receive two new pairs of fresh socks, she noted. That’s also a hit with the kids, she said.
The Shoe Bus is the sole charitable activity of the Terre Haute Women’s Club, which was founded in 1971. Each year, volunteers on the bus provide about 1,200 pairs of shoes free of charge to needy kids in Vigo County.
The current Shoe Bus is a slick, large, unmarked, white vehicle custom designed to serve as a miniature shoe shop and warehouse. Up to 400 pairs of shoes are carried in neatly organized drawers. The shoes are purchased, often at discounted prices, from area retailers, Roberts said.
Before visiting Meadows, the bus made a stop at other Vigo schools, including Terre Haute South Vigo High School and Sugar Grove Elementary. At Sugar Grove, a brother and sister were fitted with brand new shoes by Lichtenberger and fellow volunteer Tammy Roach.
Both politely said “Thank you,” before hopping off their seats inside the bus and returning to their classrooms.
The Shoe Bus has taken many forms in past years, nearly always as used vehicles, including one without a reverse gear. The current bus has a brightly-lighted interior custom designed by Natalie Rupert, Robert’s daughter and an architect.
The Shoe Bus is supported by money raised by the Terre Haute Women’s Club through the group’s annual event, “An Evening of Art and Wine,” next scheduled for April 12, 2014 at Hulman Center. Socks are often donated by area churches, businesses and civic organizations, Roberts said.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or email@example.com.