Operation Warm shoes

Marcela Hitchcock, a classroom aide at the Lincoln Early Childhood Center, helps to fit Xavier, 5, with a free pair of new athletic shoes, offered Tuesday morning by Operation Warm.

POCATELLO — Gloria Betzner considers it a safe bet that a lot of young children in Pocatello and Chubbuck will be sleeping in their sneakers for the next few nights.

The national nonprofit organization Operation Warm began distributing about 300 pairs of athletic shoes at the Lincoln Early Childhood Center on Tuesday morning to local children involved in the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Head Start and Early Intervention programs.

Shoes will be given away over the course of three days to children from pre-kindergarten through third grade. Operation Warm has previously given away new coats to local children who meet income requirements. Shoes are a new offering, which the nonprofit calls Warm Soles.

“The buzz starts before they get them, as soon as we tell the teachers and kids they’re coming. They’re so excited,” said Betzner, who is the family services manager for District 25’s Head Start program. “Once they get them they don’t want to take them off. They won’t want to take their shoes off tonight either.”

Idaho State University athletics and Mountain America Credit Union partnered on the event. The credit union donated $10,000 to cover the cost of the shoes, which Operation Warm had specially made.

The credit union’s donation was tied to the number of three-point shots the ISU Bengals scored in basketball and the number of first downs the Bengals made in football, explained Angela Phillips, a regional spokesperson for the credit union. Phillips said Mountain America also recently donated $9,000 on behalf of Bengal sports to help fund coats for local children through Operation Warm.

“We know there’s a lot of kids who have need this year and in the last year more people have been in need than ever,” Phillips said. “A lot of these kids have never had their own brand new pair of shoes. It just boosts their confidence. Seeing the smiles on their faces running around in their shoes and having a blast today has been worth it.”

Michael Andrews, western region partnerships manager with Operation Warm, said the shoes come in eight colors and are extremely durable. Though they’re of the highest quality, he said it costs his organization just $20 per pair to have them made. Coats also cost $20 each, he said.

Each child also received plenty of free Bengal schwag and a pair of socks. Games and obstacle courses were set up on the school lawn for the children to test out their new footwear. Local DJ Kelly Martinez played music while the kids played, and Benny the Bengal was also on hand to celebrate with them.

“The whole concept behind the shoes was to provide outdoor play,” Andrews explained. “The kids are already having fun and moving.”