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Custom-Made Shoes Help Kids Trek Through Life’s Most Difficult Journeys

A child walks into a hospital for his first day of chemotherapy. Another has already been in that hospital for weeks, receiving treatment after treatment for her rare illness. In a different wing, a teen is relearning how to walk after an accident. They’re all on different, difficult journeys they had no choice in embarking on.

And if they’re going to make it through, they’ll need a good pair of shoes on their feet.

Better yet — they’ll need a magical, custom-made, one-of-a-kind pair of shoes. That’s what Madison “Peach” Steiner thinks, anyway.

About three years ago, the 23-year-old artist from Farmington, N.M., founded “Peach’s Neet Feet,” a nonprofit where volunteer artists paint shoes for kids and teens living with diseases, disorders and disabilities.

“We use the shoes as a way to celebrate people,” Steiner told The Mighty. “We say, ‘Hey, these are yours and only yours.’ Kids with cancer may view them as their fighter shoes. A nonverbal kid may see them as a way to show their identity.”

Steiner estimates that her 30 volunteer artists have painted 2,000 shoes to date. To apply for a pair, parents can email angelabpnf@gmail.com with their child’s name in the subject line. Steiner then sends an application, most of which are approved. The artists sometimes even visit the kids to make sure they get the design right.

“We want the shoes to come out as unique and individual as possible,” Steiner explained. “They’re a part of the kids that represents who they are. From the beginning, I’ve hoped these shoes would become more than just shoes.”

Kids outgrow, wear out and get shoes dirty. Kids step in puddles and spill drinks on themselves. Steiner knows this — she hopes that when they’re ready, these kids and their parents will view the shoes as a keepsake, a symbol of a long, hard but maybe beautiful journey.

On one occasion, Steiner delivered a pair too late — the shoes arrived on a customer’s doorstep days after their daughter had passed away from cancer.

“It was a situation where I froze and thought, ‘This is going to be a bad thing or a good thing,’” Steiner recalled. “They’ll view the shoes as something negative or they’ll see them as something to cherish.”

This couple chose the latter. They contacted Steiner to let her know they’d always take the shoes with them — in the car, on errands, on trips and to a memorial service at their daughter’s school, where a tree was planted in her honor.

“They were going to carry the shoes with them wherever they went,” Steiner said. “They were going to continue their daughter’s journey for her.”