The gym at Old Post Elementary School in Abingdon was filled with smiling faces last Monday as it was transformed into a giant shoe store to accommodate small feet that needed shoes.
Children from 25 elementary schools and John Archer special education school sat in orderly rows while student volunteers from Edgewood High School measured the youngsters' feet and brought them their brand-new shoes -- courtesy of Goodwill Industries and J. C. Penney Co. Inc.
There were black or white athletic shoes for the boys and white tennis shoes for the girls.
Eleventh-grader Tina Bilotto patiently helped 9-year-old Tim Cordell put on his shoes.
"He's tried on four or five pairs," she said with a smile, as the sandy-haired fourth-grader from Hall's Cross Roads Elementary walked around his chair to make sure the shoes fitted just right.
Soon, there was an affirmative nod and a look of satisfaction at the athletic shoes that will be worn to school, he said, and to play football, his favorite sport.
The back of the gym looked like a mini-stockroom, stacked high with shoe boxes in a variety of sizes.
The man behind the stack was James Rollins, a merchandise manager at the Penney's store in Security Square Mall who brought the shoe cargo to the school. His store became involved in the project because the store manager, William Seglia, is active in community affairs, he said.
Mr. Rollins said the shoes, which range in price from $30 to $45, are sold to Goodwill at a discounted rate of $17 a pair.
Christa Burkert, a community manager of Goodwill who helps coordinate the event, said Goodwill relies on donations to buy the shoes.
Five-year-old Jessica Rutherford of North Bend Elementary School shyly held onto her new shoes that had pink trim and sparkles -- a pair of shoes that would make any kindergarten student happy.
Her sister, Jeannice, a fifth-grader at the school, helped Jessica put them into the shopping bag that every child received, complete with a candy cane tucked inside.
While sparkles may charm the younger set, Jeannice was pleased with her plain white shoes.
She and Jessica both said thank you when they left.
In fact, a lot of the children said thank you.
"It's such a well-behaved group," Ms. Burkert said.
Goodwill and Penney's provide 2,200 shoes to needy children in Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City during the holidays. Students in Harford walked away with 369 pairs.
Children who need shoes are identified through their schools by pupil personnel workers and guidance counselors.
"There are parents who start crying when you tell them their child is going to get new shoes," said Diane Buchanan, a guidance counselor at Youth's Benefit Elementary who accompanied several children from her school.
This is the 12th year of the shoe program in Harford, but only the second year that children have been brought to one location and fitted with shoes. Previously, parents were given vouchers for the children, but the redemption rate for shoes wasn't as high as Goodwill had hoped, Ms. Burkert said.
Now, the shoe party is a field trip for the students, who had apple juice and cookies while they waited to try on shoes.