DOCTOR'S BLOG

Birth of The Barefoot Kids Foundation on Oprah


When television superstar Oprah Winfrey gave 300 members of her audience $1,000 last October, all were reportedly inspired to do good deeds with the money. One woman was said to have given a dozen homeless men spa treatments and new clothes. Another gave a helping hand to a man with a brain tumor and nine children.

But Winfrey's message of "paying it forward" extended beyond her TV show, for it also inspired Carlsbad residents Loretta and Dan Ross to start their own nonprofit organization, the Barefoot Kids Foundation.
"It was inspiring to see what they did with it," said Loretta Ross, who with her husband started the foundation in July. "I'd always wanted to do something like this, and this seemed like the right time in my life to do it."

The Rosses didn't have to look far to find a good cause to which to devote their extra time and money.
"My son's a teacher (in North County) and he said he saw many of his elementary school kids wearing their siblings' battered shoes," said Ross, who works full time in the elder-care field. "There are some kids who have never gone to a shoe store to get new shoes."

Indeed, the National Center for Children in Poverty reports that with nearly 13 million children in America living below the federal poverty line, new shoes don't always make it onto a family's must-have list after the food and medical bills are paid.

Ross said it was important to her and her husband that the families were not asked to stand in line for help and that the shoes are new and properly fitted. "I think it's very belittling for a parent to have to stand in line for cast-offs, and this way, they get to choose their shoes and they are brand-new," she said. "Shoes are a real confidence booster for kids."

And well-fitting new shoes are also important for children's health, she said. Dr. Kenneth Rehm, a San Marcos podiatrist, sits on the foundation board. He said that the importance of good, new footwear for children has been overlooked. "There is almost free health care in this country, but there is no free shoe care. People forget about their feet until there is something wrong and they can't walk," he said, stressing the fact that quality shoes for children are important. "For lots of kids who go without new shoes, the alternative is going without shoes (at all) or getting hand-me-downs, which are unhealthy. The heels are worn out or they're stretched out to the point they fit someone else. The foot supports the whole body and you can have these foot problems your whole life."

Rehm said he was amazed to hear that many children in our relatively affluent communities go without new shoes and was happy to lend his support. "They (the Rosses) don't have to do this at all," he said. "They are doing it out of the kindness of their heart. It is such a worthy cause. I am so passionate about the work Danny and Loretta do."

The Rosses set up the foundation themselves, including researching how to create a nonprofit, finding the right name, setting up the Web site and securing corporate sponsors. They also collect donations, giving private donors the option to direct their donation to specific communities or to leave it to them to fairly distribute.
Through its national distribution network, the foundation provides $25 gift cards for Payless Shoe Source to their distribution partners, which are child care service organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, schools, and licensed state agencies. These partners determine which children are in need and distribute the cards to them.

Last, a tracking program confirms the use of each card and provides feedback to the distribution partners. This two-way reporting system helps the foundation determine the effectiveness of the program.
The Rosses have also worked hard to enlist the help of many corporate sponsors such as Amazon, Best Buy, the Discovery Store, Staples, eBay, Travelocity and others who have agreed to donate a portion of sales made through the Barefoot Kids Foundation Web site. On the Web site are links to the corporate sponsors, and customers who click on the link to the sponsor's logo and make a purchase generate additional donation income to the foundation.

So far, the foundation has given out a couple of hundred cards, said Loretta. "We would like to do so much more, but we're just starting out. I wish we could give out thousands of cards -- and we plan to."
Ross is adamant about keeping herself and her husband out of the limelight. Not interested in putting their photos on the Web site or in the media, they would rather remain anonymous.

"I don't want it to be about us, about me," she said. "We just want it to be about the foundation and helping kids get new shoes."

Contact staff writer Ruth Marvin Webster at (760) 740-3527 or rwebster@nctimes.com .