Happy feet leaves plenty of happy faces

Mackenzie Neirduffy, Website Production Team

Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club gives shoes to needy students

Smiles from ear to ear. Shoes strewn across the floor. Faces lit up. Volunteers, parents and children fill the aisles. This is Happy Feet.

For the past 12 years, the Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club (MPRC) and East Cooper Rotary Club (ECRC) have held the annual Happy Feet event, as a way to reach underprivileged kids in the community who can’t afford a new pair of shoes. Lou Mello, president of the Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club, started the program in 2007.
“I thought [Happy Feet] would be a great way to accomplish a lot of things,” he said. “Number one, giving needy kids shoes…and number two, getting our two clubs to do an event together for fellowship, service, and so forth.”

In order to identify needy students, Mello reaches out to 16 local schools. These students and their siblings then show up on the day of the event at Target, where they sign in and size their feet.
After being sized, students are assigned a shopper, who is a Rotarian or Interact Club volunteer. The shopper helps the students find the shoes they are looking for in their size and guides them to the checkout. There, the students receive a pair of socks and the shoes they picked out completely free.

Happy Feet came about after Mello attended a Rotary Club International Convention.
“When I went to my first international convention…I met an incoming president…and she told us they had a school that they did this Happy Feet,” he said.
Mello brought it back to Mt. Pleasant and presented it to the Rotary Club Board, who quickly approved it. Since starting Happy Feet in 2007, Mello has gotten over 50 other clubs to do it, as well.

The Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club sponsors Wando’s Interact Club, whose members volunteer at Rotary Club events, such as Happy Feet. Junior Gillian Thomas volunteered as a shopper at Happy Feet for her second time this year.
“…it was really fun seeing…everyone’s reactions ‘cause everyone was so grateful for [the shoes] and it was just…a nice environment,” she said.

Each year, this event supplies students with between 250 and 290 pairs of shoes. The best part for Mello is “…seeing some of the really little kids getting new shoes for the first time ever ‘cause maybe they’ve had nothing but hand-me-downs,” he said.
Happy Feet’s impact goes beyond just a pair of new shoes, though.
“The impact is education. If young people feel good about how they appear in school, it will help them study and do their best,” Mello said. “It also lets young people know that adults in the community care about them.”.