DES MOINES, Iowa — Even the longest journey begins with one step but these empty shoes are filled with tragedy. “That’s families broken. That’s so many friends lost. That’s everything ruined,” said Zoey Cohen as she viewed hundreds of empty shoes outside of Central Academy.
Each Pair Iowa co-founder Valerie Cohen, a bus driver and parent within Des Moines Public Schools, has been traveling the state since May displaying a pair of donated shoes for each COVID-19 death in Iowa. “Look at these losses. Think of it as a human being and not as a number,” said Valerie.
As of Saturday morning, more than 800 Iowans have died from COVID-19. While the visual of these shoes can be haunting, at the bottom of the stairs are shoes once worn by Terri Lynn Clark, an Iowan who died in May of COVID-19. “Seeing all these shoes, seeing all of what would be people, what would be dead Iowans thanks to this pandemic, it feels very out of this world,” said Zoey.
The group has partnered with Keep Iowa Kids Safe to also help collect health items like face coverings and hand sanitizer needed for students heading back to school like Zoey, who is a student at Roosevelt High School. “I don’t think there is any way to prevent the spread of this pandemic in schools,” said Zoey.
Friday, many teachers joined in a car parade at Terrace Hill to protest Gov. Kim Reynolds’ directions for all school districts to return to in-person learning at least 50% of the week. Those opposed believe it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. “You can’t have a size five solution for a size twelve district. That’s why local control is so important,” said Valerie.
If leaders refuse to heed to warnings of many educators, organizers believe the thought of losing any teacher because of COVID-19 would be some mighty big shoes to fill. “We are out of control. We can’t keep up. It is a never-ending battle if we choose not to end it,” Valerie said.
Because of rapidly growing COVID-19 deaths, the group is in need of more shoes. Once the pandemic is over, the group will donate the shoes they collect to various organizations throughout Iowa. To donate, visit the Each Pair Iowa Facebook page.