Christmas arrived early this year at the Medford Gospel Mission, where Our Hearts to Your Soles volunteers arrived with 250 pairs of new shoes, a mountain of pristine white socks and even some basic medical assistance for homeless community members who spend much of their day walking on blistered, worn-out feet.
Recipients flashed wide smiles as they tried on new shoes in brands not typically found in thrift stores or shelters' donation bins.
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rich Owens led the charge as founder of the local group, Our Hearts to Your Soles, organized under the decade-old international Soles4Souls (www.soles4souls.org), which provided the bulk of the shoes for Wednesday's event.
In its second year, the event provides comfortable footwear to the community's most needy to prevent conditions such as blisters and wounds from becoming more serious circulation issues that could lead to amputation or other health conditions.
Volunteers from medical offices and shoe stores were armed with insoles, added padding and weather-proofing spray for non-tennis-shoe footwear.
Owens rolled up his sleeves — and even donned a mask and power tools in some cases — to further inspect painful foot problems that ranged from bunions and calluses to serious diabetic conditions and open wounds.
Even after a battery in a small power tool failed, Owens persisted, inspecting sore feet and offering advice and referrals for further medical treatment.
A steady line of patient customers trickled down the mission's main hallway, excited over the variety of shoes from which they could choose.
In addition to 150 pairs provided from the international parent organization, Famous Footwear and Paradise Shoes donated more than 120 pairs and Pacific Medical supplied insoles and other accessories to cushion aching feet.
Jacqueline Martinez, nearing retirement age and living at the Gospel Mission, said a quality pair of shoes to fit her aching feet — and the added medical care and compassion — were sorely needed.
Martinez suffers from constant foot pain that she likens to "stepping on a needle."
"I get shoes from different places that don't fit too good, but when you're relying on other people you have to take what you can get," she said.
"I have really bad calluses on my feet and I have a lot of pain. I've been to doctors that charge a lot and I never have had them really help me too much. They gave me some good advice today and they looked at my feet and told me how to get them feeling better."
Tim Caruthers was fitted for new boots that were sprayed with weatherproofing spray before his visit was complete.
Caruthers pointed to the condition of his old shoes and voiced appreciation for the event.
"I'm homeless at the moment and shoes are majorly important," he said.
"People have a tendency to wear out their shoes and it's the last thing they think about, especially when you can't always just go out and buy new ones when you need to."
Julian Minch, an employee of Paradise Footwear in Medford, suspected he and other volunteers had gained more out of the event than those receiving new shoes.
"It just feels really good to know that we're helping community members who are so in need," Minch said.
"People come into our shop and they can buy whatever they want. Here they can't, so it's just a completely different feeling that there's a real necessity here. It just feels like helping people find a good comfortable pair of shoes is making a genuine difference in their lives."
Owens said the day brought plenty of variety, from working mothers and homeless day laborers in need of comfortable work shoes to diabetics and the elderly; all told, almost 150 new shoes were provided to homeless community members.
"We've helped everyone from people who just needed a good new pair of shoes to people like one guy today who literally is at risk to lose his legs because his feet are so bad," Owens said.
"For some of these folks, especially people that may be living out on the streets, shoes are pretty important. We just feel really blessed to be able to be here and help fill such an important need."
On the Web: www.medfordheartstosoles.com.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org