It's difficult to put into words the sense of pride and excitement that a child who has never had a brand new pair of shoes experiences when they try on their KidsCan shoes for the first time.
About 166,000 pairs of these shoes - good quality, durable lace-ups with sturdy soles - and 333,000 pairs of accompanying socks have been supplied for children in need since 2005 by the New Zealand charity organisation that aims to meet the physical and nutritional needs of Kiwi kids less fortunate than others.
KidsCan's mission is to provide food, clothing and basic healthcare in low decile schools to enable children in need to be more engaged in their education and reach their full potential, and with sobering statistics such as "one in four children in New Zealand are living without the basics", the organisation needs as much help from us as it can get.
This year KidsCan has already distributed 24,500 pairs of shoes and 49,000 pairs of socks as part of its Shoes for Kids programme, and demand from New Zealand's schools continues to soar.
A new series of images taken by teachers around the country reveals the state of the hand-me-downs many of these children have been getting about in. They are a sobering sight for those of us who don't think twice about replacing a pair of shoes as soon as they're starting to look a little tatty.
Julie Chapman, KidsCan CEO and Founder, says the photos "provide real insight into what it is actually like to walk in the shoes of Kiwi kids in need".
"We have heard of children ending up in the school's medical room because their broken, worn-out shoes had made them trip or they had blisters all over their feet from having no soles inside the shoes.
But KidsCan's hard work is not just about protection for tiny feet. Especially over winter, schools have found those without decent footwear may stay home rather than be cold and uncomfortable making the trek to the classroom, let alone the discomfort that can occur getting involved with school activities.
"Having a decent pair of shoes also allows a child to participate and not have to sit on the sidelines when other children play sports or go on school trips. Yet, shoes are one of those basic items families living in material hardship often go without. That's because when it comes down to a choice of paying the rent, keeping the power on or buying food, shoes get pushed aside," Chapman says,
"When you look at the photos of those real worn-out shoes, remember they were being
worn every day by real Kiwi kids -- they were all they had to walk to and from school, to do
activities in, to wear in winter rain, frost or snow because their parents could not afford to
buy another pair."
After doing research on the Shoes for Kids programme Massey University found many positive effects, including improved school participation and physical health. "For some children [the KidsCan shoes are] the first pair they have ever owned and they can't believe they are allowed to keep them," the research found.
"We have been told that the shoes make the children feel equal to their peers and give them the sense of being cared for. We have heard of children crying at receiving their very own, and very first, pair of new shoes and many go over and above to look after them – even cleaning and shining them daily."
A new entrants teacher at a Decile 3 Auckland school, says the shoes are life-changing for her students in need, and the high-quality Vodafone Warriors branded raincoats, which everyone in the school receives, are also a source of immense pride.
"I see kids wearing both items on the weekends - they'll wear the coats even if it's not raining."
Chapman says the feedback from New Zealand's schools is overwhelming. "When we partner with a school and provide basic items, like a pair of shoes, we have been told by 85 per cent that attendance increases. Even more heart-warming, 92 per cent say since partnering with us they have seen an improvement in the self-esteem of their students."
Playing your part to help these children costs as little as $20 a month, as a regular donor. Your monthly donation will help a child in so many ways. KidsCan is currently feeding 30,000 children a week in 16 regions across New Zealand, many of whom need food assistance daily.
As well as material items such as shoes and socks, food, raincoats, health and hygiene items for 732 schools nationwide, there are the less tangible benefits of KidsCan support: increased self-esteem, confidence and a sense of belonging and pride.
If you can help, please visit KidsCan.org.nz today. Your $20 a month will stretch a long way.