Ann Marie Smith, center, and Monica Gonzales of Aldabella Scarpa present new shoes from their boutique line to Joanna Mora, 8, left, and her sister Perla, 5.

WEST COVINA - For one morning last week, the courtyard of Giano Intermediate School was transformed into a shoe store, the kind some women dream about.

Shoes that usually grace the shelves of high-end boutiques were handed out for free to the waiting arms of elementary and middle school girls in the Rowland Unified School District.

They sat on cement benches trying them on, delighting in the colors and designs, and planning outfits for the first day of school.

For many, they will be the only shoes they get this year. And for their parents, the gift provided much-needed relief in tough economic times.

The giveaway was part of a movement by a pair of West Covina sisters and shoe designers to provide

Giano Intermediate seventh-grader Ebony Watkins,12, tries on her new shoes.
shoes to children across the country living in poverty.

What is a back-to-school ritual for many families, is a source of stress for others, said Ann Marie Smith, one of the sisters.

"I had one mother tell me she wasn't going to pay the utility bill so she could buy her daughter a new pair of shoes for the first day of school," she said.

Smith and her sister Monica Gonzales are the owners of of an Italian-inspired children's shoe company called Aldabella Scarpa.

For every pair of shoes they sell, they give a pair away.

Their generosity was not inspired after they found success with their company. Rather, they started the company with the intention of helping children in need.

Smith was

working as a school administrator for the Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District but wanted to reach more children.

She and her sister share a love of shoes and the genes for shoe design - their great grandfather made specialty shoes for matadors in Mexico and patented steel-toed shoes for miners.

Aldabella Scarpa, and its shoe giveaway, was a natural match.

"You don't realize what new shoes do for a child. They feel like they can run faster, or jump higher. And

Eighth-grader Tiffany Smith, 13, tries on her new shoes from the Aldabella Scarpa.
as you get older, you want to have the hip shoes, and it feels great," Smith said.

And hip they are. They first found success in East Coast boutiques. Actress Marcia Cross's daughter has a pair of Aldabella Scarpas, as does the son of Kiss's Paul Stanley, Smith said.

Since they opened two years ago, Smith and Gonzales have given away 270,000 pairs of shoes.

After opening the first Aldabella Scarpa store in downtown Covina in May, the sisters decided to bring their generosity home.

Last Wednesday, they gave shoes to approximately 200 of the neediest students from Giano Intermediate and Villacorta Elementary in La Puente - which boast the sisters as alumni.

"It's a tough economic situation for a lot of our families. We have families who are scraping together the money to pay electricity bills," Villacorta principal John Martinez said.

The giveaway isn't just about outfitting kids. It's also about making them feel like important, Smith said.

The Converse-like shoes given away Wednesday are part of the company's "I matter" series. They are emblazoned with empowering phrases such as "I Rock" and "Believe."

That message already reached 10-year-old Mayra Mora. The Villacorta sixth grader had no idea why she was selected to come to Giano to receive the shoes, but she was thrilled about it.

"I'm really happy. I never knew they knew me. I've only been here one time," Mora said about Giano Intermediate School. "I feel special that they remembered me."

rebecca.kimitch@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2105