Ryan Sparks
The Curry Coastal Pilot

For so many children in this country, organized sports is simply not an option. The costs of registration, travel and equipment mean that many a child won't have the opportunity to participate in an organized league and learn the valuable life lessons of teamwork, camaraderie and selflessness that youth sports teach. The Brookings-Harbor Shoe Exchange, a program that takes donations of used shoes to be dispersed to any in need, aims to make sure that every kid has the opportunity to play.

"When Larry Retzlaff started it in Smith River it was because some of the kids weren't joining sports teams because their parents couldn't afford the equipment and that seems a shame," said Shoe Exchange coordinator Linda Schreiber. "Here in Brookings, it's a similar thing. We want the kids to be safe and play well. We don't want finances to be the reason the kids aren't playing."

The Shoe Exchange runs from 1 p.m-3 p.m. the second and fourth Saturday of each month at the lower level of the Elks Lodge. They have collected over 12 bins, each holding 20-25 pairs of baseball and soccer cleats over the past year, which they then disperse for free to any, not just those in need.

"It's not just for the needy, it's for the frugal parent also," Schreiber said. "Its a huge expense. My son alone will be one size in soccer season and a different size in baseball season. People can't afford to be paying $50 for new shoes twice a year. Kids don't stop growing and they haven't had enough time to wear the cleats out. It's a waste."

Schreiber adds that people don't have to donate to receive a free pair of cleats.

"It's not a one-for-one thing," she says. "You don't have to donate a pair of shoes to get a pair of shoes. The thought is, when you do have a pair of shoes, remember us. If you never have a pair of shoes for us that's OK, we are still here for you to take what you need."

During the Brookings-Harbor Youth Soccer League's recent registration event held at the Chetco Community Library, dozens of pairs of cleats were given away to any athlete in need. Schreiber estimates that between youth baseball and soccer season, the Shoe Exchange has given away 120-150 pairs of cleats this year.

"When baseball season started I had 12 crates of cleats between baseball and soccer. I'm down to about six crates left," declared Schreiber.

Schreiber points out that the Shoe Exchange is not just a charity for athletic shoes, but for any and all types of footwear. They have women's dress shoes, work boots, tennis shoes and flip-flops.

The donations are not just for the benefit of the Oregon Coast community, as many pairs of shoes are sent to Africa as well.

"We take donations of everything. We only put out the best. Everything else gets bagged up and shipped to Africa, where they clean and fix them up and get distributed there," said Schreiber.

Word of the charity fell on the ears of Habitat for Humanity and they decided to help.

"Habitat for Humanity just gave me all their nice rainboots that we plan on giving directly to the schools because they will know who needs them come wintertime," said a thankful Schreiber. "It was a wonderful donation of 65 to 75 pairs of boots and they are beautiful. We are going to try to divide them between here, Smith River and Gold Beach."

Schreiber jokes that, on occasion, some overzealous parents commit "charity gone wrong."

"Sometimes I get parents that are so anxious to donate back that they donate the ones their kids are still wearing during the season," she said. "I get this frantic call at 5 o'clock "My son's got a game and I just gave his cleats away. They were locked up in the Elks Lodge but I had some at home so it worked out just fine."

In their community-wide efforts to put shoes on the feet of athletes up and down the Southern Oregon Coast, the Shoe Exchange has set up donation drop-off locations in several areas.

"There are bins underneath the Elks Lodge; if they are in Smith River they can donate them at the elementary school, or at the Julindra Recycling at Crescent City," said Schreiber.

Above all, Schreiber wants people to know the Brookings-Harbor Shoe Exchange is available to anyone and everyone.

"Sometimes people hesitate to come in, thinking they are taking away from the needy, but we have plenty to share and being thrifty and frugal is important for most of us with kids.So I don't want people to hesitate just because it isn't a make it or break it need. I shop at the exchange all the time for my kids. The people who donate the nice shoes just want them shared and enjoyed and if it makes things a bit easier on a family that is wonderful," she said via email.

For further information contact Linda Schreiber at 541-469-9850.