Students Run LA sees theft of 500 pairs of shoes

It was bad enough when Christine Pajak noticed that the locks on trash cans containing her organization’s most important possessions – children’s jogging shoes – were tattered. She looked inside and saw that hundreds of shoes donated to Students Run LA were gone.

Two days later it was even worse. Despite increased security, she found a large hole cut in the gate protecting her trash cans. Someone struck again boldly at their headquarters in a school in Tarzana. It was a wipeout — 500 pairs of running shoes meant to be given away to kids who can’t afford to buy them were gone — jeopardizing the coming season for the 30-year-old nonprofit that teaches kids at 185 schools how to become a runner and embrace physical fitness.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Pajak. “I couldn’t believe that even after all those steps, they came back and decided to take even more than the first time.”

These shoes are more than just material goods. They are necessary for the students who work with the organization’s coaches most of the year to prepare for the Los Angeles Marathon. Since its inception in 1989, Students Run LA has trained more than 75,000 students to participate, providing shoes, uniforms, transportation and bringing coaches to their schools.

Andrea Jimenez, a Students Run LA graduate who graduated in 2020, is now working on her social media and community engagement. She said the importance of the supplies being made available to these students could not be overstated. Before joining Students Run LA, she ran in hiking boots.

“Most schools are low income and coming from a low income family myself I was really grateful for all the resources they actually gave me like transportation, uniforms because I wouldn’t have had access to all of that things,” she said.

This theft has set back Students Run LA’s operations – not only do they need to replace shoes, but they are also looking for a new and safer place to store supplies.

“We now feel that it has been compromised,” said Executive Director Marsha Charney. “That cost us a lot of attention.”

Los Angeles School Police Department Officer Luis Castañeda responded to both incidents and said an investigation was ongoing. Although common sense tells him the same person was involved in both burglaries, police aren’t sure.

“Either someone had information about what was in those containers, or someone was out fishing and just found what they wanted,” Castañeda said.

During the school closures enforced by the pandemic, Students Run LA continued on Zoom. Charney said they expect many more participants in the coming season as training has switched back to personal training – a bad time for a major loss of material.

Charney hopes the organization’s partnership with Nike will help replenish shoe supplies. However, she says the theft has taken more than just a financial toll on the organization, it has also taken a spiritual one – and impacted her sense of security.

“Since we started, we’ve known that for many kids, the shoes they get in December are the only shoes they wear,” Charney said. “It would be terrible if that were taken away.”

Eduardo Rebollar, a member of Bell High School’s Students Run LA chapter, said he joined after the pandemic severely impacted his mental health. He recalls the excitement of getting his Nikes, just his second pair of running shoes, last December and how it boosted his confidence to run the marathon. He and his classmates from Bell High SRLA loved the club so much that they decided to get together over the summer, even though the season doesn’t start until August.

“I didn’t want to go through these mental health issues anymore, so SRLA motivated me and made me meet new friends and meet new people,” he said.

Lizbeth Sanchez is one of Eduardo’s classmates and this year will be her fourth marathon with SRLA. When she started, she says, she could barely walk a mile. But with the resources and support of her coaches, she slowly built the confidence to make it to the end.

“SRLA really offers something,” she said. “And it shows that it’s a family, not just people running.” Students Run LA sees theft of 500 pairs of shoes

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