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McCandless couple's charity helps out 'Just for Kicks'

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
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Mary Fricker of McCandless was named an Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Western Pennsylvania Chapter during its 2013 celebration of National Philanthropy Day. Fricker and her husband have donated new Converse tennis shoes to more than 1,000 first-graders in Pittsburgh public and parochial schools in the last six years through their charity, 'Just for Kicks.'

Even Mary and Joseph Fricker get a kick out of sneakers.

The McCandless couple's charity, Just for Kicks, has provided more than 1,000 first-graders in Pittsburgh public and parochial schools with new Converse tennis shoes during the last six years.

“My husband and I do it jointly,” she said, “but it's kind of my baby.”

For her efforts, the retired West Mifflin Area School District first-grade teacher was named an Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Western Pennsylvania Chapter during its annual celebration of National Philanthropy Day in November.

“Some kids never had a new pair of shoes,” Mary Fricker said. “It's just like Christmas.”

She shops for shoes all year long, looking for sales and discounts and spending $25 to $35 per pair. She wants fun colors and interesting patterns.

After Easter, she begins research to find elementary schools with a high number of students in the free-lunch program. When she discovers the perfect school, she contacts the principal.

“One thought it was a hoax when he got the letter,” she said.

Now, she sends a list of school names to document her past efforts. So far, 19 schools have gotten visits from the “Tennis Shoe Lady.”

After the children have measured their feet and submitted their shoe sizes, the couple selects the boxes for delivery. Fricker has joined her husband on many of those visits.

“It makes the kids so happy and makes me so happy,” she said.

One girl, “a feminist in the first grade,” asked for boys shoes the next time.

Mary Fricker often receives cards, notes, pictures of the shoes and posters from the children. The last class said, “Thank you,” in French.

When Marcia Wallender, senior director of philanthropy at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Mary Fricker's alma mater, learned about the project, she decided to nominate Fricker for the Association of Fundraising Professionals' award.

“She has such an amazing heart,” Wallender said.

“She shared her story with me, and there was such joy in her face and passion, it struck a chord with me.”

The couple also has set up a nursing scholarship at the university.

“She is one of our alumni who embrace and embody the philanthropic spirit,” Wallender said.

At the banquet, Fricker shared her “Just for Kicks” story in three minutes. Her friends and family were there for her salute. Her story will continue as long as her husband can get the shoes there, she said.

“We enjoy it. The kids like it. It's a win-win,” she said.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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