Dec. 19, 2013 | There was standing room only at River City Ministry in North Little Rock on Dec. 12 as volunteers filled wash basins with warm soapy water while preparing to give foot exams and new shoes and socks for the homeless, working poor and disabled.
It is the sixth year UAMS volunteers participated in Soles4Souls. About 100 people walked away in a brand new pair of shoes and socks.
“The same volunteers come back every year,” said Ruth Thomas, M.D., director of the UAMS Center for Foot and Ankle Surgery. “The reason is we all get something back from trying to help these individuals we’re helping tonight.”
“It’s heartwarming to see them be so appreciative of the new shoes and the service,” said volunteer and UAMS employee Sylvia Davis. “Some came in with holes in their shoes. They’re worn because they do so much walking. It’s good to have good shoes.”
“Try using Vapor Rub,” Thomas told a woman while trimming her toenails. “It will cut down on the thickness. But don’t go overboard.”
Inside the modest clinic rooms, Thomas, along with nurse Debbie Bryant and medical resident Wes Greer, see a steady stream of patients. Other volunteers hand out towels, fill basins with clean water and sort through shoes and boots.
By the time the first half hour passed, they had already given away more than 50 pairs of shoes.
“Every little thing we can do to help them will help them get back on their feet,” Thomas explained. “Many of them are trying to work. They have to do a lot of walking. Good shoes allow them to stay on their feet longer and not get in trouble with blisters, corns and calluses.”
Thomas began coordinating the event in 2007 when she was approached by orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon Stephen Conti, M.D., of Pittsburgh. Conti’s children initiated Our Hearts to Your Soles, which works in partnership with Soles4Souls.
Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic in Little Rock provided the bulk of the shoes at last year’s event. Thursday, Snell volunteers were there measuring feet to make sure the shoes fit.
“With the hurricane that hit the east coast (last year) we didn’t have a good supply coming in from Red Wings and Soles4Souls,” said Thomas. Soles4Souls was able to provide shoes this year. Snell and the Bryant High School color guard donated socks.
It was more than the tangible gift of shoes and socks that was taken away from River City Ministry. Many men and women received much-needed exams and medical advice.
“Tonight I’ve seen several things that I feel need medical attention,” Thomas said. “This is also a good time to screen individuals for diabetes and educate them about the complications that can occur with the disease and why they have to be vigilant about that.”
Bryant says she enjoys volunteering at the event and encourages others to do something to help someone less fortunate.
“That’s what the holidays are about,” she said. “It’s not about receiving things. It’s about giving. If everyone would just give a little something, how much better would the world be?”