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.
I am so appreciative and so humbled by the number of people that Heart & Sole was able to impact in 2022 (including guests and volunteers). It took so much help from so many sources to accomplish it – those donating footwear, those whose financial contributions helped us buy boots, supplies, bins, etc., those who helped clean footwear, those who volunteered at events, and those who prayed for us. Saying thank you just doesn’t seem like enough . . .
In 2022, including tennis shoe giveaways (283 pair), boot giveaways (394 pair), and on-demand requests, Heart & Sole gave out just over 700 pair of footwear and Bombas socks! It was the first time we were able to give out boots at Food Finders Fresh Market and at a Stand Down For Homeless Vets event. In 2021, we gave out close to 350 pair. We doubled our impact, which was especially important given the effect the economy has and will continue to have on people. While it may be hard to maintain or even improve on this number (boots are especially hard to come by now), we will certainly try to do so!
Please never underestimate the value of good footwear, along with friendly conversation and prayer, to our guests. They are truly grateful, and I thank you all on their behalf. Below are a few of the interactions submitted by our volunteers that I know will touch your hearts.
“Volunteering with Heart and Sole to give away boots to homeless clients at Lafayette Transitional Housing Corporation (LTHC) was extremely rewarding for me. It was important for me to give back to Heart and Sole because they were kind enough to help me when I was homeless with a pair of boots, tennis shoes, and a pair of Bombas socks.
At the giveaway, I was in charge of greeting and fitting the clients for socks and boots. I felt very comfortable doing this as a majority of them were familiar faces that I was once on the streets with not so long ago. While I was fitting boots for the homeless I engaged in conversations with them. I listened to their stories and showed my compassion by letting them know that I could relate. Many were fearful of the upcoming winter weather and so thankful to be given a pair of boots and a new pair of Bombas socks to battle the elements. As I was fitting them, I could not help noticing the damage to their feet and remembering how bad my feet once were. Their toenails were uncut and had fungus. Many suffered from nerve damage in their feet from being outside in freezing wet weather and needed assistance getting boots and socks on. This did not bother me because I understood why their feet were that way. When you are homeless, you spend endless hours walking in the elements until, or if, you can find shelter. Your feet take a beating and often you spend days or even weeks in the same dirty socks. Toenail clippers are hard to come by when you are homeless so often they continue to grow into the skin and become severely infected causing pain and putting holes in your socks.
I would like to challenge everyone to consider donating their new or gently used boots and/or tennis shoes to Heart and Sole. The work they do is so important to those most in need, the homeless.”
“This volunteer experience has been the most impactful one yet. I got to work with an organization called Heart and Sole to fit the homeless people with shoes for winter. It was so amazing getting to hear everyone’s stories and pray with them before sending them on their way with their new shoes. Almost everyone I met walked away with a new pair of socks and a new pair of shoes. The only exception to this was a man named Doug. Doug was super nice to talk to and had so many great stories to tell. Doug wasn’t able to get a pair of shoes this day because he wore a size 15 and we only had one pair of 15’s which didn’t fit. I just felt so bad because I felt like there was nothing I could do to help him. We tried to get shoes from the warehouse, but there were none his size there either. Devi, the leader of the shoe drive, was determined to get him shoes which I was super happy to see! I may not have gotten to talk to Doug for very long, but the impact he made on my life will never leave me. I will never forget the kindness he showed even though he didn’t get shoes. He was so understanding and patient with Devi and I. I pray that he has a good winter and is kept as safe as possible from the elements this season. This experience really made me think about how many things I take for granted as well. Having nice winter shoes, a nice winter coat, hat, and gloves is something I’ve always known and have never gone without. I truly am so thankful for this experience volunteering with LTHC as a whole because I’m learning so much about the homeless community and gaining so much appreciation for the things that I have been blessed with.”
“And then, I met Doug . . . As Doug and I walked to our seats so he could try on boots, it was obvious that every step was painful for him. When he said he needed a size 15 boot, I was so glad that for the first time, I had two pair of size 15 boots. As I waited for my runner to bring me the boots, Doug told me that he currently spent every day at LTHC. Every afternoon, he walked to Lafayette Urban Ministry to see if he could get a bed for the night. This was a very painful walk for him. When he was lucky, a bed was available. However, sometimes, there was only a top bunk or no bed available at all. In both cases, he had to sleep outside (he isn’t able to climb onto a top bunk).
When the boots arrived, Doug was unable to get his foot into either pair. The top of his feet was rounded over due to swelling, and there wasn’t enough clearance to get them on. I gave him socks and prayed with him, apologizing that neither pair fit.
Back at Heart & Sole, I started looking for a third pair of size 15 boots that I thought we had. I found them and returned to LTHC. Unfortunately, once again, Doug was unable to get his feet into them. He said that he needed a size 15 double wide.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Doug. While I understand that Heart & Sole can’t buy boots whenever we don’t have a pair for a guest, I kept wondering what Doug was supposed to do to get a good pair of boots.
I decided to buy a pair. When they came in, I took them to Doug to try on. This time, the boots went on. However, he said they were a bit tight. I returned those boots and ordered a size 16 double wide. When they arrived, I took them to Doug. This time, when he put then on, he said ‘Oh, yeah . . . yeah. That’s nice.’ He tried on the second boot and then walked in them. Doug smiled. He finally had his boots.”
“I met several people who moved me with their stories, their struggles. Jose, who had a wife at home with fibrosis of the lungs and had been on the transplant list for a year. Charity, who had been fired a month earlier due to her bosses unwanted sexual advances. Lonnie, who was a vet and had been living on the streets as of lately. There is always a person who states that they were just praying for new shoes and then they heard of this event. What a wonderful witness! There were so many who were struggling with mental health issues, addictions, and had nowhere else to turn. Some seemed a bit lost, others were so aware of the choices they had made and how those choices had landed them in the situation they were experiencing. All were grateful or gracious. I often wonder how I would feel if I had to depend on the kindness of strangers for a pair of shoes. Would I be as gracious or would I be bitter and angry? There is always more than one person who makes the comment about how great it is that Heart and Sole is doing this. They are so appreciative of getting new socks! Socks! I have so many socks in my drawer that I don’t even get around to wearing all of them. These people are made in the image of God, just like I am! They matter! They are worthy of help and support. Every time I volunteer I am quickly humbled at all that I have and all that I take for granted every single day. The Church needs to start being the hands and feet of Jesus! We are so needed I reaching people who are hurting, lost, forgotten, and unseen. Jesus saw everyone and we should at least try to see the ones He places right in our line of vision.”
Our spring tennis shoe giveaways took place on April 23 at Food Finders Fresh Market, and on April 30 at LTHC Homeless Services. We gave out a total of 283 pair of tennis shoes and socks to very grateful guests. We also offered brochures about salvation, information about local church services, and offered to pray with our guests.
There was a significant increase in the number of volunteers needed, due to an increased numbers of guests seeking local services. God provided volunteers from local churches, Purdue University, and Food Finders, as well as family members, friends, and friends of friends. A total of 59 volunteers served at the two events, and they were incredible! We are so very grateful for their help.
Here are some of the comments and encounters shared by volunteers:
“A mom and her son who had just moved to town were so thankful for shoes and someone to talk to and pray with.”
“. . . served a man who was very, very, very particular about his shoes. He would try on two pair and then ask to see more. This went on for 20-25 minutes. At a certain point, I felt frustrated that he couldn’t just make up his mind but then I realized I’m picky about my shoes, too. My frustration dissipated and I’m glad to say that he finally found a pair of shoes. Lesson learned.”
“A man wanted a pair of work shoes, but we didn’t have any. So, I found him a pair of high-top, leather tennis shoes and he was really happy to get them.”
“The very young woman who was evicted just the week before and said she lost everything. She had mental/depression/seemingly other problems too, and said her meds were locked so she could try to regulate them. She accepted prayers for her health, her many steps in her new shoes, getting her meds adjusted, and that God loved her and was with her always. She and I were both emotional when she left.”
“M seemed reluctant at first but then opened up and shared part of his tragic life story with me. M admitted that he has made some bad choices and that he is now paying for those choices. He had only been homeless for one month and said that the homeless life was not for him. He has buried two wives due to drug overdose and is trying very hard to stay clean. He thanked me more than once for listening and told me that most people are afraid to approach him because of a reason he does not understand. He told me that it was obvious I cared about people and I think that meant something to him. Although he was reluctant to want to explore his faith at first, after sometime of listening and telling him that people cared about him, he did agree to pray with me. He seemed genuinely touched because someone was willing to listen. Just listen.”
“I just prayed to God to bring me shoes last night. And today, here you are giving out shoes.”
“The last guest I served was Ruby. She had diabetes and needed shoes. But what struck me was her posture of faith. When I asked if she wanted information about Jesus, she said “Oh yes!” Some “for her sister too.” And when I offered to pray with her, she had 2 ready requests. Throughout our prayer she kept calling out “Yes, Lord.” Her faith was an inspiration for me!”
“I prayed with two people who had experienced tragic deaths in their families the week before.”
“I actually had a couple of people this time that I had last time that remembered me and one Dawn even remembered my name. I got Peanut who I have had before. Peanut always lets me pray with him. This time was the first time that I have prayed with him when he didn’t seem to be under the influence of anything. This time he wanted for me to pray for him to stay clean as he had finally hit his one week mark. I am so proud of him because he hasn’t given up. With all of his struggles in life all he wants is to stay on his wagon. It was really a blessing to pray with him again.”
First, please let me apologize for being so late at posting our latest boot giveaway. December had many personal challenges, which have just recently been resolved.
Anyway, on November 20, Heart & Sole gave out 89 pair of boots to the residents of Union Place Apartments, Lincoln Center, and 8th Street Commons (residential buildings for the chronically homeless), as well as to the guests of LTHC Homeless Services. We also offered brochures about salvation, info about local churches, and prayers. It was an amazing day, and the volunteers and guests were incredible.
One of our guests sent us a text, thanking us for the boots and telling us how much she loved them. It embodied one of the characteristics we see in our guests – they are very appreciative. They repeatedly tell us how important what we are doing is. And, they love their new socks and boots. In this post, I thought I’d share some of the things
we’ve observed, rather than recount individual stories.
In spite of their difficulties, most of our guests still have faith. Many of our guests thank God for getting them boots. When information about salvation and local churches are offered, most take the information. And, when prayers are offered, they are enthusiastic about us praying with them.
Our guests look out for each other. They help one another, let one another know when a special event is going on, and share what little they have. They even help strangers to town, leading them to available meals, beds, and assistance.
Our guests are pleasant and kind. Although their circumstances are extremely difficult, they are still a pleasure to serve. They are friendly and in good spirits.
Our guests are lonely. Having a friendly conversation where they are treated just like everyone else is a treasure for them. They are rarely listened to.
Our guests aren’t used to having a choice. Too often, they stand in lines, are handed
an item, and sent on their way. We love letting them try on as many pair of boots as they want, until they find what makes them happy. (They constantly apologize for wanting to try on more than just the first pair we bring them!)
If you ask how they are doing, our guests will tell you they’re fine. But, fine can mean they were able to eat that day, or that they didn’t get rained on last night, or that they found a bed for the night, or that they want to keep their struggles and pain to themselves – so far from what fine means for us.
Some guests stay quiet. Life has dealt them so much to deal with that they have withdrawn from others.
Chronically homeless guests struggle to take advantage of what is available. When 37% of those invited from the residential buildings came for boots, it was a really great turnout. They often forget to order meals and skip eating. They forget to take a shower, comb their hair, get dressed.
Our guests have challenges we don’t even think about. One guest’s house had burned down. Without insurance, he became homeless. Another guest was in a manic state. His family disowned him, because they couldn’t deal with his mental illness. He is now homeless. Often, we have guests wheelchairs. It is a challenge for them to get to services, especially in bad weather. And, they are extremely vulnerable if they fall or are attacked. Guests often tend to just live with any injury or illness they have, rather than seek the limited medical care available to them.
These are just a few of our insights. I hope they help you see our guests a little more the way we see them. Remember – love God and love people!
On June 26, we had the pleasure of visiting Union Place Apartments and LTHC Homeless Services, to give out tennis shoes to the residents and guests. This was our third and final tennis shoe giveaway for this year, and all together, we have given out 308 pairs of tennis shoes, socks, church information, and prayers. I praise God for all he has done to use Heart & Sole to reach people (both guests and volunteers!) and pray that the seeds being planted grow and flourish.
Here are accounts, from a couple of our volunteers, of interactions that particularly stood out to them:
"Marcel greeted me with a smile as I walked him back to sit. He kept saying 'Thank you' while we walked. When we sat down, he explained to me that that morning, he had considered using the last of his money to buy a new pair of shoes for work. Sadly, he realized he needed to hold on to that money for other things. He came into LTHC just to check his mail when they mentioned to him that Heart & Sole was there and giving away shoes. He came over with the hope of getting red shoes. I didn’t have red, but I brought out bright blue shoes. He said that blue was his second favorite color. Unfortunately, he needed a different size. There in the bin was a pair of sports shoes that had a fade from red to blue. He tried them on and they fit perfectly! He hugged me and thanked me several times more that God had brought us into his life."
"On Saturday, June 26, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve members of the LTHC community through Heart and Sole. I’ve served before but, this most recent opportunity had a couple of meaningful, impactful moments. Admittedly, there are times I take for granted all the choices I have on a daily basis from what and where to eat, to what shoes I’ll wear for the day.
Serving can have its challenges: I was challenged to find just “the right pair” of shoes for a particular gentleman. This gentleman lives in a tent miles from Lafayette and walks in regularly to use available services, so it was really important that I got him a good pair of shoes that he liked. He was presented with a number of choices of shoes and none seemed to be satisfactory. Instead of becoming frustrated I saw the chance to exercise patience in hopes of meeting this man where he was. We shared a few laughs as I continued to bring him multiple pairs of shoes. In the end the “right pair” happened to be the last pair we had in his size. Ultimately, he asked me “why didn’t you bring those out first?”. Looking back, I know why…God wanted to stretch me a little in a different direction.
In contrast to the aforementioned story, I was blessed to bless a woman with the first pair of shoes I brought out. Jennifer, a resident of Union Place apartments came down in hopes of finding a new pair of summer shoes. As I approached the tote with her size a pair of shoes caught my eye. As soon as I brought said shoes out they caught Jennifer’s eyes too. She mentioned that the color of the shoes I brought out, a bright purple, were a perfect match for her 10-speed bike. As soon as we slipped them on the expression of her face changed. She stood up as tears began to well in her eyes she stated, “I feel like I’m walking on clouds!”. She went on to praise the name of the Lord: I asked if there was anything specific we could pray about. In a broken voice, she expressed that her father had recently passed and she was struggling with the loss. She allowed me to place a hand on her shoulder as I rose her up in prayer for her loss and prayed she’d feel His presence and lean in to Him with her struggles.
It was a great day of service and I look forward to the opportunity to bless people in our community again!"
From our April 17 giveaway, one of our volunteers submitted the following about her interactions:
"I wanted to share a few stories that people let me pray with them. I had a grandma with her two year old grandson. Her Grandson had already had two open heart surgeries and is scheduled for one later this month. She had injured her foot and ended up loosing a toe and had all kinds of bandages on her foot. We were able to find a wider pair of shoes to bless her with. We tried on 19 pairs of shoes but found the right pair. It was a blessing to pray for continued recovery for her and her grandson.
There was another family where we had the Mom and daughter. Mom has custody of her daughters four children because her daughter is having problems kicking drugs. They both asked for prayers for her daughter to have the strength to go back to rehab and the family strength to get through together.
The family I remember the most is a woman that came in with her two kids. Her husband recently came home from serving over seas. He has PTSD and is to the point where he can’t work and has tried to take his life a few times so she doesn’t want to leave her kids home with him. When I put shoes on her she started crying and then it all came out. They had lost their house and moved into an apartment and they were struggling to keep it. Out of everything going on in her life she wanted prayers for her husband to have strength to stay here and watch his children grow up.
All of these families just needed love. It was an honor to be able to serve and love on them."
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!
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."
Another spring season of tennis shoe giveaways has come and gone and, as always, we have been reminded of why we do what we do. This past April, we gave out 405 pair of tennis shoes and Bombas socks. (Last April, we gave out 283 pair.) Even in our community, the impacts of our economy are being felt by so many.
I want to thank our corporate donors (Changing Footprints, Bombas, The Fountain Trust Company, Purdue Federal Credit Union, First Merchants Bank, and Fleet Feet) as well as our individual donors. With such increased need, we could never serve the large number of guests at our events without their support.
I want to thank the many volunteers who helped us collect tennis shoes, restore tennis shoes, and give out tennis shoes. I also want to give a shout out to the Central Catholic High School students who served at our events as part of their community outreach program.
Lastly, I want to thank LTHC Homeless Services and Food Finders Food Bank for allowing us to hold our giveaways at their locations, and for continually working to help us improve our events.
Shortly, I hope to post some stories about interactions during our events. For now, just know that there were so many conversations with our guests that included not only friendly chats and laughing together, but more serious discussions about challenges in their lives, with our volunteers offering encouragement and prayers.
"Do not neglect to do good and share what you
have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."