Tayjon, a chubby-cheeked toddler who loved butterflies, died unexpectedly in 2016. He was remembered Wednesday by his family, who organized the collection of 342 pairs of new shoes for Canton City School students in need.
Mark and Artavia Cleveland said the initial goal of Tayjon’s Promise Shoe Drive, now in its second year, was to collect 200 pairs. "We blew it out of the water," Artavia Cleveland said.
The shoes are housed at the Arts Academy at Summit on 1100 10th St. NW. Community workers from any city school can request shoes for students, said Nina Vassar, community worker at Summit and coordinator of the giveaway.
Cleveland said they received significant help from local churches, businesses, a dance studio and charitable organizations that allowed them to display donation boxes.
She got the idea for the project shortly after Tayjon’s death. The cause was never determined. In response, his parents became vocal advocates and volunteers for SUDC, the Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Foundation.
Nationally, about 400 children are classified as victims of SUDC every year. It is the fifth-leading category of death for children ages 1 to 4.
"I was bringing one of my kids to school, and I noticed one little boy who didn’t have a good pair of shoes," she recalled. "Tayjon had just died, so emotionally, I wasn’t in a place ... to do anything about it then."
"I’m so impressed with their dedication and passion," Summit Principal Jeanine Bowling said. "They’re making such a difference in people’s lives."
Cleveland noted that one of the more memorable recipients was a child who came to school one winter day in sandals.
Mark Cleveland, who teaches a fatherhood-skills class at the Stark Regional Community Corrections Center, said that after he happened to mention the project during a class, some of the men offered to donate.
"I don’t think people truly understand the need in this community," his wife said. "We look up at people when maybe we should be looking down."
Artavia Cleveland said for Tayjon’s 10th birthday - four years from now - she wants to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes.
To learn more, visit SUDC.org or https://www.facebook.com/events/canton-ohio-44714-canton-ohio/tayjons-promise-shoe-drive/546008379527792/.
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