SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Snowy weather late into Spring 2022 has left some less fortunate Utahns without the basics.

Operation Warm and the Salt Lake Education Foundation are doing something to change that on April 13th, 2022.

Both non-profit organizations are teaming up to provide and distribute 250 pairs of shoes to Salt Lake City students in need. Students will be sized for shoes at the Rose Park Health Fair at Rose Park Community Learning Center from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. on April 13th, with the shoes to be distributed in the following weeks. They are also giving out free bikes for students in need of transportation to and from school.

The Salt Lake Educational Foundation’s mission is “to promote student success in the Salt Lake City School District by using private donations to supplement children’s educational experiences.” Their 2020-21 impact report shows indicates that 55% of SLCSD students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 56% of students are students of color, and 26% of students are English Language Learners. During COVID-19, the foundation ahs provided 23,000 health and hygiene kits and 1800 vaccines.

Operation Warm sources shoes directly from manufacturers, meaning the shoes given away will be high-quality, consumer level products: not a cheap substitution for normal shoes. The organization specializes in providing shoes to school-age children who may not have them. Something as simple as a pair of shoes can greatly increase a student’s ability to attend school every day. The Operation Warm website reports over 30,000 pairs of shoes gifted, and over four million coats over 23 years of operation.

Because so many of these high need students receive free or cost reduced lunches at school, their ability to get to and from school in cold weather might determine if they are able to eat enough each day. Hopefully, free shoes will be a first step in that process.

James Yapias, director of the Salt Lake Education Foundation spoke to ABC4 about the event. He mentioned an emphasis on helping pre-k through 3rd grade students not only with shoes, but with health screening and consultation. When asked if the event should have a big turnout, Yapias said that the foundation will be bussing families with low access to transportation to and from the event, and that in past similar events they have had 150-250 families with multiple student-age children attend.

For Yapias, access to a “nice pair of shoes” is more than just for getting to school and back for students. Good shoes help students “nurture their bodies” by developing exercise habits at a young age. Walking is also an excellent way for young students to release stress, especially when they come to school with challenges from home.

The Rose Park Health Far is also providing other services to SLC students and families. These include COVID-19 vaccines, hygiene kits, food bags, makeup and more, all at no cost.

To get involved, Yapias calls Utahns to go to the Salt Lake Education Foundation website. There, they can consider donating to the foundation or volunteering their time at future events. Yapias anticipates holding at least two more similar health fairs later this year around the SLC area.