Dec. 4, 2015 | There was much to be thankful for at the Soles4Souls event Nov. 19 at River City Ministry in North Little Rock.
For the homeless and others in need, there was medical care for their feet, new socks and sturdy boots — just in time for winter.
For the UAMS doctors and staff, as well as other volunteers from the community and Snell Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory, there was the knowledge that their skills were being used to help those in need.
“We consider this a community service,” said Ruth Thomas, M.D., the director of foot and ankle surgery at UAMS. “We like to do this around Thanksgiving because we feel like it is a way to give back to the community.”
Thomas held her first event in 2008 at the request of Stephen Conti, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon in Pittsburgh whose teenage children had founded the nonprofit Our Hearts to Your Soles, which conducts medical screenings and shoe giveaways. Our Hearts to Your Soles partners with Soles4Souls, a Tennessee nonprofit.
Since then, Thomas and her crew of volunteers have returned to River City Ministry once a year, except for last year when a shortage of donated shoes scuttled the event, to care for the feet of the homeless, working poor and disabled.
Joining Thomas this year were Robert Martin, M.D., Kevin Goodson, M.D., Debbie Bryant, L.P.N., and Sylvia Davis, all of whom work in the UAMS Orthopaedic Clinic, and former UAMS employees Sherry Holt, Diane Reese, David King and Karen Seale, M.D.
For most of the volunteers, it wasn’t their first time to participate.
“We have a lot of the same people who come year after year to help,” said Thomas. “It is kind of a core group. They don’t want to give it up.”
Holt can be counted among that group. As Thomas’ assistant, she helped plan the 2008 event. She has continued that role every year since, even though she no longer works at UAMS.
Seale said she had only missed one of the Soles4Souls events, calling them incredibly rewarding.
“I just love to do medical pedicures,” she said, adding that a bond is formed while working on people’s feet.
After seven years of putting on the event, the volunteers have it down to a science.
The whole process starts with a hot, soapy foot bath. The patients soak their feet as they wait to see a doctor or nurse who will examine their feet, clip their toenails and attend to other minor foot issues. Thomas recommends that those with major foot problems, such as an abscess, come see her at UAMS.
Patients are also asked if they are diabetic, Thomas said, adding that “we counsel them about their shoe wear and how they have to be very careful with their feet.”
After the consultation, the patients go see Williams and Mann to get socks and sturdy shoes, which were donated by Red Wing Shoes. Snell donated insoles for those who needed them.
“Every year, we see around 100 people,” said Thomas. “They’re always very appreciative of what we do. They’re always very happy with the shoes and the two pairs of socks.”
The Snell representatives spent much of the evening on their hands and knees measuring each person’s foot to ensure a good fit.
“Snell has been here every year,” Thomas said. “One year, we ran out of shoes, and Snell stepped up to fill in the gap. We couldn’t do this without Snell.”