Dec. 1, 2016 | There is a simple reason volunteers return year after year to give away free medical foot care and shoes to the homeless during the Soles4Souls event at River City Ministry in North Little Rock.

“I think it makes people feel good,” said Ruth Thomas, M.D., professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine.

About 15 UAMS doctors and staff; staff from Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory and Horton’s Orthotics & Prosthetics; staff from the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System; and volunteers from the community served about 100 of the homeless, working poor and disabled on Nov. 17 just as they have done for eight out of the nine years since 2008.

Woman fits man with boot

Lori Taylor, a pedorthist and medical assistant with Horton’s Orthotics & Prosthetics, fits a pair of boots for Jerry Allen.

The annual event is purposely scheduled around Thanksgiving.

“A lot of it has to do with the time of year,” Thomas said of what puts people in the giving mood. “Everyone likes to do a good deed now and then, and we thought this was kind of a fun good deed.”

What began as a UAMS project has grown over the years to incorporate volunteers from various agencies. This year, in an addition to the medical care and shoe giveaway, volunteers from Western Hills United Methodist Church provided participants a chicken dinner with all of the fixings.

“We’ve got a lot of people coming together to do something cool,” said Anne Holcomb, pastor of Western Hills UMC.

In another first, several staff members from Horton’s volunteered their time.

“The fitting of the shoes is what takes the longest and can really slow this process down,” Thomas said, “so we’re especially grateful for the additional help.”

The Soles4Souls volunteers pose for a group photo.

The Soles4Souls volunteers pose for a group photo.

Participants ate while they waited to be called back for their consultations. First they soaked in a foot bath. Then they saw a doctor or nurse for a medical pedicure and exam. The practitioner took care of any long nails or callouses; identified and discussed any health issues; and referred them to see Thomas at UAMS for further care if needed. Afterward, staff from Snell and Horton’s fitted them with new shoes – most of which were work boots donated by Red Wing Shoes – and socks.

The event began in 2008 when Stephen Conti, M.D., contacted Thomas. Conti, an orthopaedic surgeon in Pittsburg, started a similar event to teach his teenage children about volunteerism. The event has since spread and now operates in several states.

A mix of men and women – and a few children – attended this year’s event, which originally served men only.

“We give them good fitting working shoes so they have the confidence to go out and find work,” said Sherry Holt, Thomas’ former secretary who still helps plan the events.

Woman carries foot bath

Kaci Mann, a volunteer from the Henderson State University nursing program, refills water for the foot baths that are part of the Soles4Souls event.

Holt, like several other volunteers, no longer works for UAMS but continues to participate. Thomas enjoys seeing people come back together each year to continue the tradition.

“We’re all in it together, and literally, the same core group keeps coming back every year,” Thomas said. “Even when they leave UAMS, they come back to help us do this and I think it’s because people find it so fulfilling.”

Holt agreed and was one of many volunteers who didn’t have a complicated answer for why they help out.

“I just liked doing it and now it’s a tradition,” Holt said. “The whole idea is to give back.”

Kaci Mann has volunteered for several years with her father, Vince Mann of Snell Orthotics. Even though he couldn’t make it this year, Kaci came anyway, choosing to represent the nursing program at Henderson State University.

“I fell in love with it and now – it’s what I do,” Kaci Mann said.