Keeping feet (and hands and heads) warm

Don Schmuckal has a simple philosophy — if feet, heads and hands are warm and dry, students learn better.

Makes sense to us.

That’s why BrickWays does everything we can to help Boots For Kids, the nonprofit Schmuckal runs that has given winter gear to more than 14,000 kids in the past 20 years.

Other benefits Schmuckal sees are that kids in new boots, mittens and hats don’t get picked on or bullied — and they can play more. “If kids don’t have the right clothes, they can’t go out to recess,” he said.

While most of the winter clothing is dispersed in October, November and December. volunteers from BrickWays recently spent a sunny summer day helping out. We sorted hats from gloves and matched sets. The clothing is bought at deep discount at the end of the previous winter. Golden Shoes has worked with Boots for Kids for years, using their connections to get sturdy winter boots for the kids and even paying the shipping. All the winter wear that’s given out is brand new.

Erin, left, and Kristi sort through hats and mittens.

Erin, left, and Kristi sort through hats and mittens.

This year, Schmuckal expects to give out close to 900 boxes with boots, hats, gloves or mittens, two pair of socks and dental supplies, including a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. The dental goods are donated by area dentists.

Boots for Kids originated at Blondie’s, a restaurant near Chum’s Corner. In 1999, the owners retired and the program ended. That’s when Don Schmuckal and the Schmuckal Family Foundation stepped up. He estimates he spends an average of 40 hours a week working for Boots for Kids, but always a volunteer. He writes grants proposals, solicits donations and shops for discounted clothes. He knows all the school social workers and donor managers at other area nonprofits. The only expense the nonprofit has is rent on a small space off Cass Road. That way, he says, 90 percent of the budget goes to the program, with less than 10 percent spent on operations.

Mittens being place in a box with boots and a hat.

Mittens being place in a box with boots and a hat.

Once the clothing is collected, the volunteers hold “work parties,” where they cut off tags, sort the clothing and package it into boxes marked with sizes. The boxes are then taken to area schools and social service agencies, including the Father Fred Foundation, Women’s Resource Center, TCAPS, Jubilee House, Buckley Community Schools, Michael’s Place and Kingsley Elementary and Middle School.

One group of volunteers — students with the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District — help with sorting and packaging and also are eligible to receive boots.

The volunteers from BrickWays have a great time, talking about the fashion sensibilities of the clothing, chatting with each other and catching up and, yes, even trying on a few hats. We love our partnership with Boots for Kids and helping our wonderful community.

The BrickWays volunteer crew.

The BrickWays volunteer crew.

Susan Onan