CALEXICO — More than a dozen youngsters worked diligently, scribbling their pencils to paper to make their best custom shoe-art design for needy children.
This was the scene as the nonprofit organization, Chews from the heArt’s volunteer artists began creating their custom art work at the Calexico Community Center, September 15, at a workshop in collaboration with the Calexico Recreation Department. The volunteer artists – known as Chew’s “Color Crusaders” – are local students between grades 6 through 12.
Once the shoes are sketched and painted by the Color Crusaders they will be donated to another local organization, this time for the foster children of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Imperial County.
Though Calexico Sports Coordinator and Chews from the heArt Founder Jamie Chew has been drawing and painting custom shoe designs since 2016, she had to re-tool when the COVID pandemic made the national nonprofit organization she started doing shoe-art with – Peach Neet Feet out of Farmington, New Mexico—close its doors.
With Peach’s Neet Feet gone, Chew felt the need to continue something similar for needy children, but she wanted to do something locally, she told The Desert Review in 2020.
“That’s when I spoke to you, you came and saw what we were doing, then I spoke to David Varela (of Starts with Arts),” Chew said. “He said ‘Why don’t we provide a free workshop for kids’ and I said ‘Maybe this is something I can do.’”
By January 2022, Chew had started “Chews from the heArt” as her own nonprofit, with the mission to “customize shoes and donate them to a good cause, to kids who are living with a disability or a terminal illness.”
Chew, as Founder and Board President of Chews from the heArt, reaches out to local organizations whose children might benefit from their custom-designed shoes, bringing joy one pair of shoes at a time.
The CASA Imperial County batch is Chews from the heArt’s fourth set of hand-painted shoes to be donated to local organizations who work with needy, disabled, or terminal children. The nonprofit has already donated dozens of completed, custom pairs to The Burn Institute, Best STEP Forward, and the Cancer Resource Center of the Desert in 2022.
Chew said during the process she connects with an organization that fits her mission; the organization provides Chews from the heArt with a list of recipients, including their shoe sizes and suggested custom design themes. From there the Color Crusaders work on sketching a template of the design on paper. Once they’re done with the template, they draw on the shoes and hand-paint them.
Chews then takes a picture of the shoes’ individual artists to go inside the shoe box with a message to the recipient, and the shoes get delivered.
“Once the shoes are done I clean them up a little bit, go and drop them off with the (organization’s) manager or director, and we take a picture,” Chew said. “This last time The Burn Institute wanted the kids to be there when (their recipients) picked up the shoes. I invited three of the high school Color Crusaders so they actually got to see first-hand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
“We don’t make money, (Calexico Recreation) doesn’t make money; everything is for free,” Chew said. “We can’t afford to buy shoes … we do white Vans and each pair is between $35 to $60 each, depending on the shoe size. The last ones I just ordered from this class I usually until there are sales, or I do several orders so I can get a discount.”
As a recent startup nonprofit since March 30, 2022, Chews from the heArt relies on donations from local do-gooders, she said.
“I’ve been very blessed to have community members, friends and families to be able to provide shoes and paint supplies for the kids to do the artwork,” Chew said. “I’m blessed also in that because I work here (Calexico Recreation Department) allow me to use the (Community Center) facility, but Chews from the heart hustles to provide whatever we need for the class.”
Chews from the heArt held their first t-shirt fundraiser over the summer, which – along with private donations of shoes from local individuals – allowed the funds for the workshop to be held in Calexico on September 15.
The Color Crusaders themselves enjoy the work they do, they said.
“It’s so calming and relaxing. I get to just like draw on shoes and it helps kids. It’s so fun,” said Mia Gamboa, a 15 year old Crusader from Calexico.
Gamboa said volunteering as artist with Chews from the heArt “makes me feel like a better person” knowing that the shoes are going to needy children.
“I work on the shoes and it just feels like a little connection too them because they like the shoes I create, and I like creating the shoes,” she said.
Eileen Javier – also 15, who was working on her sixth pair of shoes in her fourth Chews workshop – agreed. She said she loves the challenge of creating new designs each time she participates and it also helps her “get out of my comfort zone.”
The teens have created dozens of custom designs at the request of the children from the recipient organizations, including superhero theme, sports themes, Pokémon and other anime themes, Disney princess themes and many more.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something good and it warms my heart,” Javier said. “Last workshop I got to see some of the kids come in and pick up their shoes. They loved them. Their faces would light up and it was adorable. One of them even hugged us.”
“It gives them hope and an opportunity to participate in something that’s unique,” CASA’s Executive Director, Alex Cardenas said. “And they value the fact that they were pre-selected by Jaime for this event, so it makes them feel special, loved, and accomplished.”
“In my 15 years of nonprofit experience and being a recipient this, by far, is one of the most unique and rewarding opportunities for foster children,” Cardenas said. “I would encourage the community to support Jaime in future fundraiser opportunities.”
Chews from the heArt is also working on collaborating with local schools, both to provide shoes for needy students, as well as to expand to more artists who want to aid in their cause.
“I really like just sitting here and painting for hours,” Javier said. “I love art.”
“I want my new motto to be: ‘Living to serve,'” Gamboa said to a fellow Color Crusader.
Those interested in donating to Chews from the heArt can contact the organization by their social media pages on Facebook or Instagram, or email Jaime Chew directly at [email protected].