08/30/2006 04:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's back-to-school time, folks! Time to think about, among other things, appropriate footwear. My classes at Pomona College started yesterday, which means that I had to undergo the personal transformation from wearing summer sandals and sneakers to wearing overhand-tied leather dress shoes. Ouch!

Just a few days ago I happened to wander into the headquarters of Shoes That Fit, a non-profit organization whose national office is located less than two blocks from my home in Claremont, California. They were busy with their "Back to School" campaign. But I discovered that their mission is much more worthy and exalted than my own rather pedestrian concern with impending blisters.

Shoes That Fit is a volunteer-based organization that provides new shoes (and some clothes) to schoolchildren in need. It began in 1992 when one local woman, Elodie McGuirk, met with a friend, a school nurse, who told Elodie about a young boy who had come into the nurse's office complaining of foot pain. The boy's parents had curled his feet under to squeeze them into his too-small shoes. Elodie decided to organize her co-workers at Harvey Mudd College to buy shoes for similar kids--thus began Shoes That Fit (here's a Family Circle Magazine article about its history).

Shoes That Fit has grown from that modest beginning into a national organization. More than 200 volunteers have started chapters serving more than 750 schools in 32 states. Last year those local chapters provided about 90,000 pairs of shoes and other clothing items to children in need. With funding from Kristi Yamaguchi's Always Dream Foundation, Shoes That Fit provided over 900 pairs of shoes to young Katrina victims.

What I particularly like about this organization is that it is community-based and participatory. An individual who wants to help goes to a store and buys a pair of shoes in a specific size for a specific child as identified by the local school-STF chapter partnerships. Of course, one can simply donate money, too--but there's something about person-to-person volunteerism that brings smiles to all parties involved (see here for a study of the dramatic decline of such face-to-face organizations in the United States in the last thirty years). In the Shoes that Fit community programs, 100% of the purchased items go directly to the children.

According to the 2002 U.S. Census, about 12 million children under the age of 18 live in poverty. Government subsidies, where they still exist, might barely cover food and rent, leaving scant money for new childrens' shoes. Wearing somebody's second-hand shoes just doesn't work. Thus Shoes That Fit addresses a unique and easily overlooked need.

Another matter:

If you happen to be in the Philadelphia area in the next few days, check out the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting. The conference starts today and lasts through Sunday, September 3. It's a massive event, the world's largest gathering of political scientists. Over 730 panels, round tables, and sessions will take place, with about 7000 participants expected to attend. The events are held at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel, and the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. See here for program highlights. I'll keep you posted on blogworthy news that comes my way (I'll be appearing on two panels, Friday and Sunday mornings, respectively).