When I was younger it was a tradition to go to my grandma’s house every Sunday for dinner and pound cake. However, as I got older that tradition became less and less frequent. However, I will always have those fond memories.
Founder of the Red Shoe Project Eric Lakomek pulled inspiration from a family tradition and began the Red Shoe Project- an organization aimed towards getting less fortunate kids sports equipment.
“I named it the Red Shoes Project because in 2009 my grandma passed away, and every year she used to buy me red shoes so I kind of figured it would be a good way to honor her; to give back to other kids by naming it the Red Shoe Project,” Lakomek said.
While the name was inspired by Lakomek’s grandma, Lakomek first got the idea for the Red Shoe Project while on an outing with his grandpa.
“I actually went to Cedar Lake for the weekend with my grandpa and I noticed that some of the kids didn’t have the equipment that they needed to play, so one year around Christmas-time I actually started up a collection just to help out the kids in the Cedar Lake area and from then we’ve started to grow and now we have things every year [at] every single school. And we actually branched out to the South Shore Visitors Center and the Munster parks,” Lakomek said.
Not only is Lakomek’s family involved with the Red Shoe Project, so is his high school.
“My school, Hanover Central high school has been a really big help. They’ve allowed me to place the bins and make their schools as a collection area. And also my family, they’ve been very supportive. They’ve helped me through almost all of this and I’m just very thankful for all of them,” Lakomek said.
The Red Shoe Project was established only a few years ago, but the impact on Lakomek has been significant.
“It’s really changed me, it gave me a different perspective on how fortunate I am. I’ve always been able to play the sports that I wanted to because my parents have been able to get me the equipment that I needed. It just really opened my eyes to see how many kids don’t have the opportunity to play because they don’t have the equipment that they need. Being able to give them the equipment that they need it’s really just inspiring to see the look on their faces when they receive the equipment,” Lakomek said.
Lakomek has seen exponential growth for the Red Shoe Project over the years.
“The first year we started [at] about 100 [donations] and the second year we grew a little bit more, we had about 250 [donations] and actually this year our collection has gotten to around 500 items. It’s grown so much over the years,” Lakomek said.
While Lakomek has seen exponential growth in donations for the Red Shoe Project, not everyone is able to benefit from the organization.
“Well, I think that the toughest part is when we go to distributions for all the equipment, we don’t have some of the sizes all the kids need. Like we might not have like a size three, or a size four for somebody. So I guess the hardest part is just having specific equipment for each kid,” Lakomek said.
Not only is the Red Shoe Project involved with Hanover Central high school, Lakomek and his team have also teamed up with Watts Backpack Baggers to reach more athletes in need.
“We actually teamed up with the Watts Backpack Baggers…and we went to a food pantry and we ended up giving out sports equipment to the kids who also came and got their book bags for school and any additional toys and clothes that Maddie [of Maddie’s Helping Hands] had,” Lakomek said.
While Lakomek is still a junior in high school, he finds the time to keep everything neat and orderly.
“Well anytime that I have on the weekends I sort the equipment, I put it in the boxes [and] I organize the different types of shoes and the mitts. And any events I try to make the most of them that I possibly can, and I just do my best to balance my high school schedule, my sports schedule along with the Red Shoe Project,” Lakomek said.
With one final year of high school left, Lakomek plans to expand his mission.
“Eventually, I plan to expand it to all the little leagues and all the youth sports organizations in Northwest Indiana, and hopefully, someday I plan to go to Chicago, in addition with the Region,” Lakomek said.
Learn more about the Red Shoe Project at www.redshoe.org