CEDAR RAPIDS — The gift wrapping covering stacks of Nike shoe boxes came off, and students’ mouths dropped. Some stood up, unbelieving.
Other kids at Garfield Elementary in Cedar Rapids shrieked in delight.
“I screamed,” Kamaria Sykora, 7, said. “And when I saw Santa I screamed, too.”
All of Garfield’s about 250 students went home for winter break with brand-new Nike sneakers on Friday, a gift from nonprofit Imagine for Youth Foundation.
For second-grade teacher Steph Nefzger, the scene was overwhelming.
“A lot of kids in my class don’t even have the proper coats,” Nefzger said, choking up. “To give them a gift like this, so they don’t have to worry about shoes — it’s more than I could ask for because they work so hard and face so much adversity.”
Three-in-four Garfield students live in low-income households, according to the state.
Andre Dawson, a 2012 University of Iowa football player, revealed the gifts to students. He said the nonprofit — started by Micah Hyde, another former Hawkeye who went on to play for the Buffalo Bills and is a premiere athlete for Nike — has hopes eventually to reach every school in Eastern Iowa.
The nonprofit donated 140 backpacks with supplies to Grant Wood Elementary in August and to Kirkwood Elementary in September 2018, both schools in the Iowa City Community School District.
For Dawson, Garfield was his neighborhood school.
“I used their playground, it was a backbone for me ending up where I ended up as an athlete,” said Dawson, who is the nonprofit’s Iowa director. “I used their equipment when I was younger because I lived right in those apartments.
“Why not give back to the school?”
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Many students get new shoes at the beginning of the school year, Principal Joy Long said, so giving them new pairs at this time of year is special.
“By this time, they’re growing out of them,” she said. “Families make a choice, do I spend money on shoes or do I spend money on Christmas gifts?”
Staff members slowly but surely have made a list over the past six weeks of every child’s shoe size, Long said — sometimes rounding up a size for their growing students.
“We’re just playing a game,” paraeducator Iris Strong told suspicious students and parents, “to see who has the biggest feet.”
Before receiving their gifts, students and their teachers sang Christmas carols. Afterward, a long line of kindergartners waited to talk to Santa.
“We’re giving these kids a Christmas party,” Dawson said. “I know a lot of these kids won’t get a lot of gifts during Christmas, won’t have a lot to do over Christmastime.
“We want to show them that, no matter what happens in life, you do have somebody out here rooting for you.”
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