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Professional bullriding event in Marion results in large donation for kids' shoes

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MARION — Judging by his actions, Sen. Dale Fowler may be taking a page from the Steve Miller Band of the 1970s as he makes every effort to "shoe the children with no shoes on their feet."

That 1976 classic, "Fly Like an Eagle" addressed hunger, homelessness and poverty. The song continues, "Oh, oh, there's a solution."

The solution as Fowler sees it is raising enough money each year so that no child in Southern Illinois goes without a nice coat or pair of shoes. In fact, the Fowler-Bonan Foundation has been giving back to kids in communities for the last 20 years.

The organization clothed over 600 children last school year - a far cry from eight in its inaugural year.

"If somebody would have told me years ago that we would be helping over 600 children in one year, I would have asked, 'How are we going to do that?' Fortunately, Southern Illinoisans always step up," Fowler said. "Our foundation works closely with local school districts. We have established a confidential referral program in which educators let us know who could use some help."

Fowler said he was elated to learn that the PBR (Professional Bullriders) association, in conjunction with Black Diamond Harley-Davidson, was going to donate its proceeds from this past Saturday's show to his organization with the expressed purpose of providing footwear for kids in need.

Although the actual amount has not yet been determined, the donation to the Fowler-Bonan Foundation will be substantial - tens of thousands of dollars -  thanks to a sell-out event.

"It's just awesome," Fowler said. "Just this year, we were able to help out kids in 19 different counties here in the region. A lot of kids don't have the proper shoes. This donation is going to help fix that."

The senator added that some referrals to his organization require a little extra attention.

"There are occasions when we buy a complete new wardrobe for a child," Fowler said. "That may include three or four pairs of jeans, three or four shirts, socks, shoes, underwear...everything. With our foundation there are no administrative fees. One hundred percent of donations go directly to the kids that we serve. And we have seen how new clothes and new shoes can build a child's confidence and self-esteem."

Partnering with Fowler is Shoe Sensation, one of the major sponsors of Saturday's bullriding event.

Angela Smith, market president for the company, said Shoe Sensation will work with select vendors to provide a quality name-brand pair of shoes at a discounted rate to the company.

Shoe Sensation will stock the trailer and make pit stops at local schools to distribute the shoes free of charge to those students recommended by the administration.

"This was an opportunity for us to be involved in the community," Smith said. "Giving back is something we want to do and we enjoy participating in these events. For some of these kids, this may be their first-ever pair of new shoes, which is so impactful to them. And we're not just giving them the shoes. We will size them first to make sure they pick out the right pair that fits them the best."

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