In unison, nearly a dozen Oak Park Elementary students gave a polite “thank you” to the man who gave each of them a new pair of shoes.
“That matches your shirt,” said Principal Joyce Miles to a young girl who smiled at what she found inside her shoe box Tuesday at the school’s front desk.
The footwear came in different styles — from Mary Janes to sneakers — and in varied colors — from pink to silver. In all, 22 students received new shoes from Sanjay Patel, the new owner of Quality Inns & Suites.
The motel is on 18th Avenue, a few blocks from the school at 4617 N. 42nd St. in the Highland Pines neighborhood. A nearby Payless Shoe store provided the shoes at a discount.
“The community has given me a lot. This country has given me a lot,” said Patel. “If I do good, I like to share with them. It’s a very small thing that I don’t need to be taking credit for.”
Betty Bell, president of the Highland Pines Community Task Force, learned some Oak Park students needed shoes and asked Patel whether he would help. Bell previously had done similar giveaways through a church.
When she learned some Oak Park students needed shoes, she contacted Patel for help.
Teachers put together a list of needy students. Some parents also had noted on school forms that their children needed shoes. In other instances school leaders simply saw a need.
“Some kids had holes in their shoes or on cold days still came to school with flip-flops,” said Shamara Byrd, Oak Park’s social worker.
Students thanked Patel in person on Tuesday. But he can expect thank-you letters from them as well. “You’ve made a difference,” Miles said.