DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – It’s outside of the normal job description, but Dayton Police officers are tying shoes to strengthen ties in the community. Thursday, several officers joined non-profit Shoes 4 the Shoeless to outfit almost 250 students at Rosa Parks Early Learning Center.
“You want kids seeing you do good and not always seeing you when the bad things are going down,” said Dayton Police Officer Josh Bowling. “This is something that they’ll remember me for.”
Shoes 4 the Shoeless executive director Kris Horlacher explained the partnership with local police happened spontaneously four years ago. An officer at a school where the non-profit was distributing shoes recognized a young girl from a recent domestic violence incident at the child’s home.
The girl remembered the officer, embraced him and asked him to help her find a pair of shoes. Horlacher recalled the exchange as inspiring.
“I watched it a little bit in awe thinking, ‘I have to find a way to make what I just saw happen more,'” Horlacher said.
The encounter inspired Horlacher to ask the Dayton Police Department for a partnership, volunteering officers to help distribute shoes.
“A lot of kids today are taught to fear, hate and mistrust police officers,” she said. “That is so detrimental to our community. It is so wrong. We just reached out, looking for a way to overcome that. And it works.”
Shelly Fulcher, the principal at Rosa Parks Early Learning Center, explained the majority of students at the school come from families having difficulties affording new shoes, in addition to bills and groceries. Shoes 4 the Shoeless calls shoes one of the most overlooked needs for people struggling with poverty.
Fulcher praised the program for relieving families of the burden.
“It gives students the ability to concentrate on what’s most important, which is learning to read, to write, to follow directions,” Fulcher said.
Officer Bowling said helping the non-profit and connecting with children is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
“I’ve seen just about everything you can imagine on the streets, but this really sticks,” he said. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my career.”
Shoes 4 the Shoeless provides more than 1,000 pairs of shoes to local children each month. Since its inception, Horlacher estimates the non-profit has served at close to 70,000 people.
You can find more information, including how to contribute to the mission, here.