Heart & Sole :
Getting shoes and boots to those experiencing homelessness and to those in economically challenged households.
People experiencing homelessness and people in economically challenged households walk significant distances on a daily basis. In our city, those experiencing homelessness walk an average of 40 blocks to reach local services. Further, the rate of diabetes and foot problems (such as open wounds, fungal infections, calluses, corns, and bunions) is much higher in these populations than in the general population. Good footwear becomes not just a necessity, but a medical issue. And yet, most of those experiencing homelessness and those in economically challenged households are wearing shoes and boots that are the wrong size, have holes in them, and/or have unattached soles. We can and should do better by them. This is the mission of Heart & Sole.
On April 17, Heart & Sole gave out tennis shoes and socks to the guests of Food Finders Fresh Market. It was our first time reaching out to these economically challenged households, and the anticipation was that about half of the guests might be interested in shoes. Imagine our surprise when 197 out of the 220 guests requested tennis shoes from us! Fortunately, we had plenty of stock and were able to give everyone shoes who wanted them. Not only did we give out shoes, we also prayed with many of the guests and gave them information about God, salvation, and local churches.
On April 24, Heart & Sole held a similar event at LTHC Homeless Services. Although there was a small turnout, likely due to the damp weather, we still gave out 47 pairs of tennis shoes and socks, as well as prayers and information. (Because of the small turnout, we hope to hold an additional tennis shoe giveaway at LTHC in June.)
God provided us with plenty of volunteers to serve our guests, and he prepared their hearts to serve our guests with friendliness, kindness and respect. The conversations between our guests and the volunteers are a treasure to many of our guests. It is rare that they are listened to, given choices, and cared about. Thank to the wonderful groups who shared their time with our guests at these events!
Below is an account submitted by one of our volunteers, about her experiences that day:
"The sweet encounters I had with the guests were just priceless! I had prayed for God to send believers my way so I could encourage them - and He did! I loved how when I prayed for them, they would softly speak "Yes" as an affirmation. There are two guests that in particular touched me - Joanne and Bill.
The first guest was Joanne - She came with her daughter and both found shoes. She was so calm as I asked her if there was something specific I could pray for. Immediately she said pray for her grandson, that he was doing drugs. Her daughter joined us in prayer and tears flowed as we lifted up a dear son to the Lord. I know those tears were tears of agony, but there was faith mingled in too. It was such a privilege to pray with Joanne!
Bill was another amazing believer. He is 83 years young and just retired 2 years ago! His wife is a Pastor and they are raising a 13 year old granddaughter who has been with them since she was 2 years old. (Bill even tried to show me a photo of her on his phone, but couldn't find it.) He spoke about his wife with tears, recounting how good she had been to him. He also shared some medical issues which we prayed about. And, he found some shoes that fit and met his need. He was grateful and as he walked away he said, "God bless you." And He did!!"
On October 24, 2020, we had the privilege of once again visiting LTHC Homeless Services to give winter boots to people experiencing homelessness. As the weather had been mild for the three days leading up to the event, the turnout was smaller than anticipated. However, when you are uplifting others, the number isn't so important.
Due to COVID, we were not allowed to mingle with the guests in the day room, as they waited their turns to get boots. Further, as we had anticipated twice as many guests and had a limited number of volunteers serving, we didn't spend as much time talking with our guests as usual. I will be sure there is more time spent having conversations with the guests in the future. For some of them, a friendly conversation means more to them than the boots ever will!
I wanted to share a couple of interactions from that day. In her own words, one volunteer mentioned her interaction with Darryl: “Darryl was a character. He was good natured and boisterous as he followed me back to our designated chair. After trying on his first pair of boots, he sat back in his chair and released a relieved breath. He then proceeded to tell me that he had been praying to God to help him find a pair of boots. His voice choked in his throat as he fought back tears and looked upward, thanking God repeatedly for answering his prayers. He also thanked me and told me the work I was doing was so important. I don't think I really understood until I was wiping away my own tears about how much we can make a difference in each others' lives. “
Another volunteer mentioned interacting with a few guests outside, when he went out to eat an apple. Three guests were standing by the building, looking over their new boots. Seeing him, they told him they were breaking in their new boots, noting that they were very comfortable. One of them told him that he could get a pair of boots, too — all he had to do was go in and sign up. Then, they noticed that he was wearing a Heart & Sole sticker and was a volunteer at the event. As he went back into the building, they thanked him for the boots. He really enjoyed the interaction, and it reaffirmed Heart and Sole’s mission for him.
So, when a pandemic overtakes the world, how do you hold an event to give out footwear people experiencing homelessness and people in lower income households? The answer is, you don't.
Since Heart & Sole was unable to hold a tennis shoe giveaway this past April, we needed to find another way to supply footwear to those needing it. So, we became an "on demand" resource. Whenever a guest visiting LTHC Homeless Services, or a resident of an LTHC's transitional housing unit, doesn't have a decent pair of shoes (or in some cases, any shoes at all!), LTHC texts Heart & Sole with the size(s) needed. Within hours, we are able to supply the shoes.
I am pleased to say that, now that we know more about COVID-19, we will be able to safely hold our fall boot giveaway. But, it's been great to have a way to be able to help in the interim!
On January 4, 2020, we again visited LTHC Homeless Services to give boots to people experiencing homelessness to help them through the winter months. As the weather to date had been mild, the turnout was a little smaller at the meal than usual. As it had been very difficult to collect boots at this time of year, that worked in our favor. We were able to provide boots to everyone who needed them.
We also spent more time interacting with the guests -- both while they were waiting for their turn and while they were trying on boots. Our volunteers kept remarking about how much just having a conversation with them meant to the guests. They were also surprised to see the poor condition of the footwear that the guests had been wearing. One gentleman had duct taped his tennis shoes together. Giving him a good pair of boots was such a welcomed surprise.
"It was so gratifying to serve with you and your team on Saturday!! Thanks be to God for opportunities such as these to be the hands and feet of Jesus! We successfully fit Mike with sturdy shoes and Emily with ‘fashionable' work boots on Saturday. Mike kept saying how much he liked his new shoes :-) And Emily said she never had shoes like these!
But I wanted to also share the personal impact which came when I mingled with the guests, and met Cindy (name changed). She did not need shoes, as she was a newcomer to experiencing homelessness. Though she had held several different jobs, the work environment was not healthy. And so she had to resort to food pantries. When nutrition became a concern, she started taking vitamins. When that wasn’t enough, she had to exchange her apartment residence for a shelter so she could eat . . . The beauty of this encounter was that her countenance was not one of bitterness or anger. In fact, she told me that she knew she was responsible to receive the community’s help in a respectful way. She had a grateful heart! During the conversation, Cindy also mentioned hope. When I said "I hope you know of the hope of Jesus," asking permission to talk about this subject, she said she was ok with God. It was other people who had put her down when she didn’t believe the way they did. I pray she saw the One true God in our kindnesses. I pray God will take care of her, and that she knows He is watching over her."
Heart & Sole's pilot event took place on October 26, 2019. We supplied boots and shoes to the residents at 8th Street Commons, Lincoln Center, and LTHC Homeless Services guests.
8th Street Commons and Lincoln Center are LTHC residences provided for those who are chronically experiencing homeless due to medical and mental issues. LTHC Homeless Services serves others who are experiencing homelessness, and we visited right after a hot meal was served to guests.
In total, we gave out 120 pair of boots and shoes that day, and shared our love of God with our guests. Although we learned a lot that day, it couldn't have gone better.
"Today, I met Travis. He had hitchhiked and hiked from St. Louis to north of Chicago to attend a funeral. On his way back, he found himself in Lafayette, where people experiencing homelessness told him he could get a hot meal at LTHC Homeless Services. When we set up to give out boots and shoes after the meal, Travis got in line. The soles of his boots were smooth and paper thin. He had been concerned about getting back to St. Louis in them. We were able to provide him with a good pair of hiking boots, to make his journey easier."
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"Do not neglect to do good and share what you
have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."