ORANGE – This past Saturday, August 26, 2017, a remarkable event took place at the Vans Outlet Shoe Store. Non-profit Helping Hands: Santa Ana (HHSA) teamed up with California State Assemblyman Tom Daly and AT&T to bring some back-to-school smiles to the Santa Ana schoolchildren who attend the Santa Ana Police Department’s Police Athletic & Activity League (PAAL) Afterschool Program.
AT&T awarded HHSA the “Investing in California” award along with a $2,000 donation toward the efforts of providing 60 kids with new shoes for school. The event was HHSA’s second shoe event to outfit Santa Ana PD PAAL kids with new shoes as they enter the new school year with the first event taking place in 2015 with 55 kids.
Upon learning about HHSA’s efforts, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association (SAPOA) offered to help provide all 200 of the students who attend the Santa Ana Police Department’s PAAL Afterschool Program with shoes. SAPOA donated $2,500 toward the fundraising efforts. With the SAPOA’s support, enough money was raised to allow the kids to select any shoe they wanted at the outlet store.
Santa Ana police officers and police officer members of the Hired Guns Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club also donated their time and funds at the event and helped the kids to select shoes and then handed them out at the store. With the influx of support and extensive planning, Vans Corporation offered to pick up the sales tax, gave the kids Vans drawstring bags, provided additional discount pricing, and awarded six lucky kids a bonus pair of shoes. Vans even opened the outlet store two hours early to accommodate the Santa Ana Police Department’s PAAL kids and allow them a private shopping environment.
There were a lot of hands coming together for this shoe event, and for a great cause. Back-to-school is an exciting time for the kids, but reality presented itself at the Vans store reminding the adults of the challenges these Santa Ana kids face. As observed by HHSA’s Michael “Bubba” Gonzalez, “I was helping one of the kids pick out a pair of shoes, and he took his old shoes off, and his toes were all curled up. I asked him why and he said because he was wearing the same shoes for about two years and that curling his toes up was the only way to make them fit.”
One student pulled a Santa Ana police officer aside and asked if she could substitute her shoe selection for her brother, a Santa Ana Police Department PAAL student who will be a freshman at the University of California Irvine. The 12-year-old student said her family could not afford to buy her brother shoes and that she wanted him to also go to school with new shoes “like all of the PAAL kids.” The officer made sure that she selected her pair of shoes and HHSA sent her home with two new pairs of shoes for her university-bound brother.
The back-to-school shoe event was a great success thanks to the coordinated efforts of the Santa Ana Police Department’s PAAL Program Staff and HHSA but being able to provide 200 kids with new shoes would not have been possible without the support of Assemblyman Daly, AT&T, and the Santa Ana POA. HHSA has been very active in supporting the kids and families at the PAAL Program and, with 98% of the PAAL kids coming from low-income homes, the help is appreciated.
The Santa Ana Police Department PAAL-HHSA partnership is a valued partnership with the common goal of helping children to be successful in the classroom and life. HHSA Board President John Mendez said, “Every one of us from HHSA grew up in Santa Ana, so we know what the PAAL kids are going through, we know the challenges they face. This is just our way of trying to help out and to give back to the community that we love and to the kids who will take care of it when they are adults.”