Homeless Find Warmth at ‘Hearts to Soles’

Above: Jeff Gray, Director of Outreach & Fit at Superfeet, fits a guest with footwear while Dr. Warren Taranow (background) shows a boot to another guest. 

It was beginning to feel cold and wet outside early last November—and that’s if you had warm socks and waterproof shoes. Many local folks didn’t.

Barbara Lupo coordinated an event, Hearts to Soles, to deal with almost 600 people who had little or nothing to cover their feet. For the 11th consecutive year, on November 11 an eclectic collaboration of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and 70 volunteers provided foot health assistance, footwear, other winter apparel, personal-care packets, backpacks, and a heavy dose of compassion.

“The purpose of the one-day clinic is to provide foot care, new socks, and weatherproof boots to folks in our community who were at high risk for spending most of their time outside,” Lupo said. “We get the opportunity to do medical care to treat needed issues, and provide a proper fitting for new boots.”

The first Bellingham event was spearheaded by Jeff Gray of Superfeet, Dr. Warren Tarranow of PeaceHealth Orthopedics, and volunteer Angela Gum. Four organizations took the lead for this year’s event: Superfeet, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, Cornerstone Prosthetics, and Lighthouse Mission Ministries.

Superfeet’s volunteer team for ‘Hearts to Soles.’

And they had plenty of help.

Red Wing Shoes and Bogs Footwear donated boots. Nester Hosiery gave 500 pairs of socks. The staff of Bellingham Foot and Ankle Clinic volunteered. Sanitary Service Co. provided sani-cans and waste-disposal containers. Superfeet provided its quality insoles for each of 564 individuals.

“The clients received foot-hygiene kits along with personal-hygiene kits, coffee, juice, fruit, sandwiches, and the chance to receive a flu shot,” Lupo said. “It’s the hope of the clinic that we can mitigate unnecessary emergency-room visits caused by damp feet.”

In addition to the day-long clinic at Depot Market Square downtown, the organizers provided a separate clinic during the afternoon for residents of Agape House in Bellingham, a program of the Lighthouse Mission Ministries. Sponsored by Superfeet and PeaceHealth Pediatrics, mothers and their children at Agape House received all the same services, along with coats, hats, gloves, pajamas, backpacks, and personal hygiene kits.

Superfeet experts measured each recipient in both clinics for new-boot fittings. All giveaway items came from employees of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center’s pediatric clinic through a giving tree. Friends of Hearts to Soles supplied food and snacks.

Lupo, a former downtown business owner, said each year the need for these cold-weather contributions has increased. The number of people served in 2018 rose by 154 over the year before; the underwriting cost is shared among Superfeet, PeaceHealth, and generous volunteers.

“As a 100-percent, employee-owned company, we’re deeply committed to bringing out the best in our community,” said Gray, Superfeet’s Director of Outreach and Fit. “We believe that everyone deserves to live a pain-free and more comfortable life. By partnering with Hearts to Soles, we further our commitment to building strong foundations that positively impact the world around us.”

Hans Erschinger-Davis, Executive Director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries, said that the donated items and services are crucial to the well-being of many homeless or sheltered persons who otherwise would incur health problems associated with winter weather. “Foot-care is one of the most major issues facing the homeless of our area,” Erschinger-Davis said.

“Tromping on the streets all night in the rain to stay warm does a number on one’s feet. Heart to Soles’ big-hearted annual effort to fit shoes and address foot ailments is an important piece of the puzzle helping people better their lives.”