Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005 | 8:46 a.m.
Clutching a cardboard box containing a new pair of blue and white sneakers Monday at Reynaldo Martinez Elementary School, third grade student Jason James asked, "Do we get to take these home?"
Thanks to the generosity of local businesswoman Aracelia Paredes, the answer to Jason's question was yes.
Paredes, owner of the Supermercado Del Pueblo local grocery store chain, donated 5,000 pairs of shoes to students at five of Clark County School District's neediest campuses. The donations began with Martinez and will continue throughout the week at Lincoln-Edison, Fay Herron, Rex Bell and Halle Hewetson elementary schools.
"It was very important to me that my own children look their very best when they went to school," Paredes said through an interpreter at Monday's event. "That is what I want for every student here."
At Martinez, about 20 percent of the students are homeless. Some are staying at local shelters while others are living with their families in cars or on the street, said Principal Patricia Hodges. Free and reduced-price meals are offered to every student.
Monday wasn't Paredes' first visit to the North Las Vegas campus on East Judson Avenue off North Fifth Street. In December, she brought gifts for each of 800-plus students and plans to do so again this year.
Hodges said she "still gets chills and goose bumps" when she recalls the holiday gift distribution. The wrapped packages were organized by age groups, and the principal noticed a half-dozen fifth graders waiting by the pre-kindergarten table.
"I asked them why they weren't over with their classmates, and they told me 'Oh, no -- we want to get something for our little brothers and sisters instead or they won't have Christmas at all,' " Hodges said, her voice breaking with emotion.
"It's incredible how these children watch out for each other and how our community watches out for our children."
Last year the campus opened the Martinez Health Academy, providing hearing tests, immunizations and dental services to students and their families. After school hours, the facility, built with community donations, is turned over to Clark County Legal Services.
The gift of new shoes is as welcome as it was unexpected, said Charlene Green, associate superintendent of student support services for the Clark County School District.
"You can't put into words what it means when someone steps up to help without us having to knock on doors," Green said. "It's not always a new pair of shoes that matters to these children -- it's the recognition that somebody cares."
The Martinez cafeteria was transformed into a miniature shoe store Monday with stacks of sneakers in sizes to fit every student, from the smallest pre-kindergarten student to the biggest fifth grader.
Second grader Lashawna Eagles knew what she wanted as she waited her turn in line on the girls' side of the room.
"They gotta have pink," said Lashawna, as two of her friends nodded in agreement. "Cause I love pink."
Fortunately, pink sneakers -- in a variety of styles -- were plentiful, and within minutes Lashawna and her classmates were admiring each other's selections.
Melissa Carrera, a third grader, was excited when she found out last week she would be getting new shoes. With a grin dimpling her cheeks, she explained why she kept the good news a secret from her mother.
"I'm gonna surprise her," Melissa said, hugging her new shoes to her chest.
Emily Richmond can be reached at 259-8829 or at [email protected]