Local \'Shoes from the Heart\' charity expands

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COLUMBIA - 10-year-old Maliyah Moody stretches out her muscles before joining her exercise group at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia.

As she stretches her legs, her hands reach out toward her new pink and white tennis shoes. She received them at an event last month where an organization called Shoes from the Heart donated more than 200 pairs of new shoes to the club.

Moody said she's glad to have new shoes because her old ones were worn out, but the new ones are good for running.

"They help me run because they're tough on the bottom, cute on the top," Moody said. 

Donnie Bonuchi and his wife Cindy started Shoes from the Heart three years ago in their hometown of Macon after their Sunday school teacher challenged them to give back to the community.

Bonuchi said his wife came up with the idea of donating shoes because she saw a need for them in the community. 

"She more than myself knew how much it cost for a pair of shoes and how many times a year these kids actually need shoes," Bonuchi said.

The organization travels around mid-Missouri donating gym shoes to different groups and families in need.

Since Bonuchi and his wife founded the organization three years ago, it has reached 27 counties in Missouri including Columbia and has given away more than 4,300 pairs of new shoes.

Bonuchi said he didn't think it would ever become as big as it is today, but he had some friends who told him from the very beginning the charity would become a driving force in the community.

"Now they keep telling me every time they see me, 'How many counties do you have now?' And I say, '27', and they say, 'See you're getting closer!'" Bonuchi said. "I say, 'Yes we are.'"

Bonuchi and his wife run the organization from their office in Macon with the help of 10 directors.

He said they are made up of people in the area he thought would like to help with kids.

Sherry Coram has lived in Macon all her life and loves kids, which she said is a reason she agreed to be part of the board of directors three years ago.

"I love to see the smiles on their little faces when you give them the new shoes," Coram said. "It's very rewarding."

Members of the board meet every three months to discuss financials and write grants, but the board members also participate directly in the donations. They go to locations and events to give shoes out as well.

The organization is supported by grants and different donations from around the state. It also has fundraisers throughout the year as well.

Bonuchi said each county can help raise money for the organization, but it will still donate shoes anywhere regardless of whether it can raise the funds.

"We will make it happen, some way somehow. We're not gonna let the kids down," Bonuchi said. "We just will pull together and do whatever we gotta do to make it work."

The organization buys the shoes from different stores around the area. Board member Julie Hayes said Wal-Mart and Shoe Sensation are big supporters of Shoes from the Heart.

"We work hand-in-hand with those organizations and they help us," Hayes said.

She said the group receives grants from them, as well.

Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Valorie Livingston said since shoes wear out fast, and families can't always afford new ones, having Shoes from the Heart bring the new shoes was a big help.

"Shoes wear and tear, they wear out fast, especially when you wear them all day and all night, and you're running and playing outside on the playground," she said. "So hopefully this is one more way that the Boys and Girls Club and Shoes from the Heart can support kids."

With Girls on the Run, Maliyah is able to stay active and run around outside, but she said she wore out her old shoes because of it.

"They were really dirty because I got mud on them, I wore those shoes to a camping trip," she said. "They got worn out before I got these shoes so I'm glad to have them."

Bonuchi said the organization will continue to only donate gym shoes.

"Cindy and I have been asked if we could expand to boots and coats," he said. "We said sorry, we only want to do tennis shoes and do it well."

The organization hopes to expand to 36 counties in Missouri and to towns in Illinois and Iowa by the end of the year. It will have donated more than 2,000 pairs of shoes this year alone.