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High school student fills thousands of shoes

Inspired by need, Kayla Tinucci founded a national charity to provide footwear for disadvantaged you

Posted: May 24, 2014 9:35 p.m.
Updated: May 24, 2014 9:35 p.m.

Canyon High School student Kayla Tinucci founded The Shoe Crew, a local group that provides new shoes to disadvantaged children in Santa Clarita and surrounding areas.

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Santa Clarita resident Kayla Tinucci has had thousands of shoes in her lifetime: pink ones, black ones, green ones, trendy ones. The list goes on.

In just two years, the Canyon High School student has collected and donated countless piles of brand new shoes to children in need.

Tinucci is the CEO and founder of The Shoe Crew, a group that collects and distributes new shoes to disadvantaged youth in Santa Clarita and surrounding areas.

“It started out as a summer program,” Tinucci said. “But we recently just finished the application for nonprofit status.”

If the shoe fits

The project started about two years ago. Tinucci was attending red carpet events in Los Angeles along with her brother, who works in the entertainment industry.

“These girls would wear these gorgeous dresses,” Tinucci said. “They would wear them one time and stick them in the back of their closets.”

At the same time, Tinucci learned of girls at her school and others who couldn’t go to prom because they couldn’t afford a dress.

So she held a drive, collecting more than 700 formalwear items, for donation to the Cinderella and Prince Charming Project, a program of the South Central L.A. children’s center A Place Called Home, she said.

After doing the legwork, Tinucci was invited to help the girls choose their dresses at the center.

“Seeing those kids showed me they need so much more than just prom dresses — they need basic necessities all year-round,” Tinucci said. “That’s where I turned to shoes.”

It started as a one-time challenge: Fill the entire warehouse at the center with brand new shoes, she said.

And she did.

“But after the summer, I wanted to keep going with it,” Tinucci said. “It wasn’t just a one-time thing.”

On shoe at a time

Once it became an ongoing project, The Shoe Crew began to partner with multiple organizations to provide donations to a wider group of disadvantaged youth.

The organization began donating to Claremont charity Shoes that Fit, the L.A. Police Department, families in need, foster homes, group homes and orphanages. It even provided disaster relief to Hurricane Sandy victims, she said.

But with such a demand, Tinucci had to figure out how to fill these shoes.

With a number of fundraising strategies up her sleeve, Tinucci hosts events, concerts and drives throughout the year. For these fundraisers, she secures sponsors and charges a pair of new shoes at the door.

Holding 12 events in her first summer, Tinucci keeps efforts always ongoing.

Most popular are her concerts, which motivate bands to compete for the number of shoe-toting fans they can bring through the door. Other events, like her most recent local fundraiser, bring in funds, and all proceeds are donated to buying new shoes.

Though venues span from Simi Valley to L.A., Tinucci has recently increased local efforts.

She donates monthly to Real Life Church, which invites the local homeless for a meal, shower, clothes and, now, shoes, she said.

Partnering with a social worker, The Shoe Crew donates to children who come through Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital after trauma incidents.

“She (the social worker) said a lot of these kids don’t have any shoes at all,” Tinucci said.

Tinucci hosted a bowling fundraiser Saturday at Valencia Lanes, inviting community members and local business sponsors to donate.

With so much constant activity, The Shoe Crew just keeps getting bigger.

Big shoes to fill

The group started with about 20 kids, Tinucci said, and the core group has remained roughly the same size.

But Tinucci works with more than 200 volunteers in total nationwide, she said.

As Tinucci made friends in various cities across the country — she’s originally from Denver, Colo. — they have worked together to form a handful of U.S. branches of The Show Crew.

A friend in New York started one after he attended a Shoe Crew meeting. Denver friends have picked up her efforts, as well.

Even Build a Bear, the teddy bear company, has recognized the power of The Shoe Crew’s reach.

In July, Tinucci was named one of Build a Bear’s “10 Most Huggable Heroes,” Tinucci said. As a winner, Tinucci received a scholarship and donation to her charity, and she was invited to attend a leadership conference with the company.

But with all this momentum, Tinucci thanks her family, calling it a team effort. Tinucci’s mother is a publicist, and her brother’s entertainment connections also help with celebrity backings.

“When I started as a sophomore, I was really shy and couldn’t talk to a group of 10 of my peers, but anything is possible,” Tinucci said. “Even if you’re thinking big, you can achieve it.”

kirsten@signalscv.com
661-287-5593

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