Rosie* sits in my office starring at her purple striped socks, her feet swaying in unison. She smiles shyly.
"Shoes are important," Rosie, 11, exclaims. "I don't want mine to get dirty. I just got them." Hers are no special brand, just a new pair of low top red sneakers purchased at Kmart with a voucher from The Basilica of St. Mary. The Basilica hosts families in our program and also holds regular shoe drives for people in need. I ask Rosie why shoes are important – knowing full well the pressures of these early teen years and knowing the material value that drives her frustration.
"What if it snows? I have these pair and my old, pink flip flops. What if it gets cold? I hear it gets cold here." She pauses and waits for my confirmation. I nod in agreement.
"I see other kids wear different shoes every day. I have to wear the same ones every day. I have to clean them every day." Rosie looks at my black suede boots.
"You only have one pair of feet,” I respond. She knows I’m joking and smiles a little. Rosie's a good kid. Good humored, friendly, polite to everyone she meets and says thank you every time anything happens for her.
"I don't want anyone thinking I only have one pair,” she says staring at her purple striped socks, "It’s important that they know I have more than one pair. There are these boots, like yours—they have the strings, the fringe, those say something different…" her excitement gives way to the yearning in her voice and just as quickly, frustration, and she says, "… but, money.”
But, money: We know what this means. It means living in the shelter program, her mom struggling to find a job while raising three girls, means there isn’t money to spare on different shoes. Rosie doesn’t want her peers thinking she lives in a shelter. She walks to school and back every day because she doesn’t want the kids on the bus knowing where she gets dropped off.
It struck me so hard that Rosie desperately wanted a different story. Her peers don't know she entered the shelter program with nothing but her mom and two little sisters tugging at the end of her shirt. They don’t know what the new low top red sneakers really mean and how important it is to have more than just one pair. Rosie wanted brand new shoes for her brand new story, still waiting to unfold.
*Rosie is not her real name.
- By MaiChoua Yang