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Truckload of boots warm feet, hearts at Salvation Army shelter

Rapper Doug E. Fresh helped distribute boots and smiles at the Toyota "Walk In My Boots" program at a North Side Salvation Army shelter Saturday. Maudlyne Ihejirika

Since losing everything in a house fire two years ago, Lakiya Holloway, 23, has been homeless, struggling to provide for her two children as she moves from shelter to shelter.

One of her worries was eased Saturday, when Toyota descended on the Salvation Army’s North Side Evangeline Booth Lodge with a truckload of boots for dozens of families, as part of its community outreach during the Chicago Auto Show, running Feb. 13 to 21 at McCormick Place.

“They fit perfect,” Holloway said as she and her kids, Raheem, 2, and Raven, 1, tried theirs on. “They’re just in the nick of time because now it’s freezing out. We really needed them, and I can’t always afford them.”

Further spreading smiles, rapper Doug E. Fresh came to help.

“New York is cold, but after last night I’m pretty sure Chi-Town has us beat,” said the rapper, who spent time with the children.

The “Walk In My Boots” program has delivered insulated winter boots and socks to homeless people in tandem with auto shows nationally for five years — with 2,000 pairs donated to date — and checks. It’s the brainchild of a black female executive, who says she has walked somewhat in these families’ shoes.

“I was and am a single mom of three daughters, and I remember living paycheck to paycheck. I remember times laying on my back in my bed and saying, ‘God, please take care of my kids.’” said Alva Mason, a national director at Toyota.

“It was really, really tough trying to raise them, trying to put them in activities that cost money, to keep them off the streets in Englewood, California. But I was blessed because I was always really into education. And having my education kept me with a job and helped me persevere.”

For Holloway, after the fire destroyed her home, she just hasn’t been “able to get back stable,” to find a job and save enough for housing, she said. The North Side shelter, which also got $15,000, serves 64 families nightly, victims of everything from fire to domestic violence, with an 180-day average stay.

Another resident, Ceronda McCall, 24, of Maywood, had been trying to figure out where to get money for boots and cold gear for her children, Celicia, 4; Cianna, 3, and Charles, 5 months.

“This really is something major off my plate, one less thing I don’t have to worry about,” she said, her kids hugging her as they grinned in their new boots. “It may sound like a little thing, but it takes a toll on us, you know? Anything that takes pressure off, I’m grateful.”

Cianna proclaimed of her pink boots: “They’re good, and they’re pretty. My feet feel better.”