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Free Shoes! Morongo Provides Kicks for 800 Needy Students

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Excited schoolchildren pick out new footwear as part of a back-to-school program funded by the 2014 Morongo Charity Golf Tournament.

Wiggling toes and excitement reigned as 800 low-income students from The Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Gorgonio Pass picked out free pairs of new, brand-name shoes and socks as part of a back-to-school program funded by the 2014 Morongo Charity Golf Tournament.

Spread across the three days this week, the annual shoe shindig began at 8 a.m. Wednesday as scores of kindergarten through seventh-grade students from Banning, Beaumont, Cabazon and Yucaipa were sized for new footwear at a local shoe outlet.

The program was made possible by the 18th annual Morongo Charity Golf Tournament, which raised $60,000 for new backpacks, school supplies, shoes and socks for low-income children in the San Gorgonio Pass.

“The smiles on children’s and parents’ faces are why we do this,” said tournament chairman Damon Sandoval, a Morongo Tribal Council member. “Morongo has a long history of helping people in need in The San Gorgonio Pass, especially children.”

Amy Herr, chief executive officer of The Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Gorgonio Pass, said the annual program is a blessing to struggling local families.

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"It really means a lot to these children and their parents to start the school year with new clothes and supplies they might not otherwise have,” Herr said. "This opportunity really helps level the playing field as kids head back into a brand new school year. We're so grateful for Morongo's help two years in a row."

On Wednesday, Tyara Martinez, 10, of Whitewater and her nine-year-old sister, Tamara, excitedly hunted through the many styles of name-brand shoes and socks. Their mother, Esperanza Zamora, was equally grateful for the program as she examined the black-and-pink shoes and pairs of colorful socks that Tyara selected.

“I’m so happy because my husband works really hard so this is one less thing we have to worry about and spend money on because of this opportunity from Morongo,” Zamora said.

Vanessa Sloanwinter, 9, of Cabazon, described the program as “pretty cool” as she shopped on her own for the first time as her mother waited outside the store.

“It’s awesome,” said the fourth-grader who woke her parents at 5 a.m. that morning to make sure she was on-time for the event. “It’s really cool because I didn’t have my mom helping me shop. I got to pick whatever I wanted.”

Since debuting in 1997, the Morongo Charity Golf Tournament has provided more than $1 million to programs serve local veterans, children, schools and hospitals. The tournament is just one of several annual community events sponsored by the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which have donated more than $5 million to hundreds of local and regional nonprofit organizations in the last five years.