APRIL 16, 2019 — Alaska has long winters and challenging weather, but that doesn’t stop kids from going outside to play for gym, recess and sports. Unfortunately, what does stop kids is not owning proper gym shoes, sports shoes and winter gear. Some Alaska kids are coming to school with shoes duct-taped to their feet. They’re not wearing jackets because they don’t own jackets.
That’s where The Basics steps in. PE teachers, coaches, nurses and other faculty at schools make the request for their students in need, and The Basics fills the order. Over the years, it has helped thousands of kids in school districts across Alaska play at recess, join school sports teams, participate in gym class and otherwise look forward to any type of physical activity during their day. But even more than that, The Basics has helped keep these kids’ feet and bodies warm, dry, and comfortable, in and out of school.
The Basics is an Alaska-based nonprofit organization started by Pamela Skogstad, a physical education specialist with over 25 years of experience adapting PE for children of all abilities in Alaska’s public school system. During her career, Skogstad’s idea of The Basics began while working in Title 1 schools with low-income families.
“My colleagues and I would use our own money to purchase shoes for children in need and realized the high demand,” she said. During the first year of The Basics, the group raised enough money for 150 pairs of shoes for children in need in Anchorage.
“The next year it took off, and this is our eighth year,” Skogstad said. The Basics has provided more than 9,000 pairs of shoes — including gym shoes and sports and winter gear — in seven school districts that include Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai and Sitka.
The group’s mission is to empower children in need to choose healthy, active lifestyles by supporting them with the proper shoes and gear. The Basics relies on online donations, individuals’ donations of shoes and clothing, and annual fundraisers. The group just received a grant to create an online system that will make it easier for schools to order items and help the organization know if it is meeting kids’ needs.
This nonprofit organization gives kids opportunities they didn’t have because they lacked the right pair of shoes or boots.
“We were contacted by a coach about a student who dreamed of playing football but didn’t have a pair of shoes to practice or compete on the field,” Skogstad said. “We purchased a pair of football shoes and had them delivered to the coach. We learned this past October that this student excelled in football, became a star athlete, and received an athletic scholarship and eventually attended college.”
A pair of girls wanting to be part of a team showed the true meaning of friendship by sharing a pair of cross country ski boots — rotating each practice and sitting out every other race just so they could both participate.
Coaches, teachers, nurses and The Basics staff worked behind the scenes to find a pair of ski boots for these girls. The Basics delivered the boots to the school office and the coach privately gave them to the girls so they could both continue participating in practices and races. All donations made through The Basics are confidential.
Since August, The Basics has delivered more than 700 pairs of gym shoes, sports shoes and winter gear to over 17 schools in the Mat-Su Valley. Just recently, the Mat-Su Borough School District received 12 pairs of shoes to support 12 students joining a baseball team. Even more gear went to schools in Kenai, Dillingham and Anchorage.
The Basics is growing and has established a storage and distribution facility in the Palmer area. The organization will continue to grow and plans to build a distribution facility on the Kenai Peninsula, too. Sports-specific shoes (such as shoes for track, baseball, soccer and softball) are in demand this spring. By supporting kids with the proper gym shoes, athletic shoes and winter gear, The Basics is removing limitations for children and helping them participate in all kinds of healthy activities.
Contact The Basics if you’re in the Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai, or Sitka school districts and know of students who need proper gym shoes, sports shoes or winter gear. If you are interested in your school district receiving donated shoes, clothing and gear, contact Skogstad, the president of the nonprofit organization.
Photograph courtesy of The Basics