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Kids get free shoes, school supplies


By Chamian Cruz

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    GWINNETT COUNTY, Georgia (Gwinnett Daily Post) — Kids understand the importance of making a good first impression.

More than 115 Gwinnett County kids browsed the aisles of Shoe Carnival on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Rd. Saturday morning in search of their ideal pair of shoes for the upcoming school year.

Outside, the Gwinnett Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 66 with help from the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Explorers Unit handed out backpacks filled with school supplies.

This is the 10th year the Cops and Kids program is helping kids and their parents get a head start on their back-to-school shopping.

“This helps kids start off with something nice,” said Mike Jones who was at the event with two young students. “It’s great. They get free book bags and shoes and socks. This is our first time being here and we sure do appreciate it.”

His eighth-grader, Jayquan White, looked through the Nikes and Adidas shoes at the store. White said he wanted something stylish. Meanwhile, a rising third-grader, Karissa Smith, reached for a white pair of sneakers as her two older brothers yelled out that they wanted something “trendy.”

“My baby,” her dad, Keytta Smith said, “she likes to pick out her own stuff. She’ll pick out something eventually. Events like this come in handy though. We got stuff like paper, notebooks, glue, crayons, markers. It’s all stuff that they need that we won’t need to buy.”

The average parents’ spending per student is expected to be as much as $270 this back-to-school season, compared with roughly $250 in 2020, according to a survey conducted by accounting organization KPMG.

The survey also found that parents of children in preschool are planning to spend as much as 32% more money this year due to a growing expectation that items will cost more in the coming months. The Cops and Kids program helps to offset some of those expenses for low-income families.

Connie Chesser, president of Lodge 66, said the event is made possible by donations from local businesses and residents. Parents also get coupons to take their kids for a free eye exam at America’s Best in Duluth. There, they can get glasses if needed.

Additionally, the event is a chance for the community to see law enforcement from a different perspective. Youth in the Explorers Unit also learn that being a police officer entails interacting with the community outside of the job setting.

“So many times the first contact people have with a police officer is due to domestic issues — traffic stops or other incidents,” Chesser said. “They don’t understand what is going on and that we are just doing our job. We do our Cops and Kids programs to let them know that we are there if they need us and they can call us for help.”

“As far as I know,” she continued, “no other organization is making sure kids have a new pair of shoes, and the great thing about it is they get to go in and pick them out themselves.”

Chesser, along with Lodge 66 Trustee Carlos Llorens and his brother Daniel Llorens ,who were both at the event Saturday, have more than 100 years of combined law enforcement experience. Carlos Llorens said they’ve helped more than 1,500 kids through the program over the years.

The families are chosen through a variety of channels, including the Division of Family and Children Services.

“This is something that we really love to do,” Carlos Llorens said. “The hardest part is finding the right kids because people don’t realize the struggles that some people go through today. There are a lot of kids out here struggling just to get a meal. As a community organization, we want to reach out to people in a way that is impactful and this has been very impactful.”

Shoe Carnival General Store Manager Axel Mendez said he’s been a part of the event since he was an assistant store manager 10 years ago. Last year, the event was held as a drive-thru due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Mendez was happy to have people back in his store this year.

“It’s good to see people out and about again,” Mendez said after directing a mom with two kids to the Nikes. “We are just happy to help the fraternity of the police be able to do such a nice thing for the community. We’re happy to do our part.”

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