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A Gift of Heart and Sole

By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Dec 17, 2012 8:00 AM

The UCLA women’s basketball team partnered with a nonprofit to collect more than 150 pairs of athletic shoes for middle schoolers.

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Rhema Gardner, a forward/guard on the UCLA women's team, poses with her new friends.

After defeating No. 12-ranked University of Texas on the road on Saturday, December 8, the No. 14-ranked UCLA women’s basketball team deserved to come home and relax a bit before finals. But they wouldn’t hear of it—not until they’d completed one more important mission.

On Monday, the players drove to Lifeline Education Charter School in Compton, Calif., to present 159 middle school students with an early Christmas present: brand-new athletic shoes and socks.

To collect the shoes, the Bruins partnered with Samaritan’s Feet — a nonprofit, humanitarian-aid organization that helps the nearly 300 million needy people who go without shoes each day. The UCLA women’s basketball team held a shoe drive during the Dec. 2 game against Loyola Marymount University, offering fans free admission if they brought a pair of new athletic shoes. Fans could also donate cash at the door or give online or via text. Nike donated 200 pairs of socks.

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The donated shoes, ready to be distributed to the middle-school students.

Fans showed up with about 125 pairs of shoes, and the remaining 75 were donated by Jrue Holiday, former UCLA basketball player and current point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers.

On Monday, the Bruin women arrived at Lifeline Education Charter School to the sound of cheers. Several student leaders placed colorful leis around the players’ necks.

In one of the school’s assembly rooms, the UCLA players and coaches washed and dried the children’s feet and helped them put on new socks and shoes. (The feet-washing is per Samaritan’s policy, intended to demonstrate an act of servant-leadership and humility.)

Coach Cori Close has had ties with Samaritan’s Feet for several years, having done shoe distributions with some of her past teams. "It’s really a privilege to continue this partnership and to expose our players to the joy of being able to provide this for somebody else, and to be able to touch their lives and spread love to these kids," she said.

The middle-schoolers were thrilled. After all the shoes were given away, several of the UCLA players, including Lauren Holiday (the little sister of Jrue Holiday), joined the youngsters on the playground for impromptu dancing and pick-up basketball.

"I think my favorite part was making the kids happy," Holiday said.