The men come to the Memphis Union Mission from across the Greater Memphis area. Some are referred by area hospitals, others through referrals from nonprofit agencies like the Salvation Army and the Hospitality Hub. All are homeless and in need of care, and all are welcomed.
Steve Carpenter, director of development for the Memphis Union Mission, says, “We exist to minister to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of individuals who are homeless, addicted, or in crisis. We provide overnight housing on a night-to-night basis, and although we provide meals, we’re not a soup kitchen. Ministry-wide we serve about 300 to 350 people a day. Our mission is a comprehensive ministry that exists to rebuild lives.”
To that end, for at least 10 years, there has been an annual event downtown that provides free foot care to the area’s homeless. The program is called Soles4Souls and is the result of a partnership between Campbell Clinic and the Memphis Union Mission.
“The program, initially called Our Hearts to Your Soles, was founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2004 by then-high school student Matt Conti and his father Dr. Steve Conti, a foot and ankle orthopedic specialist and colleague of mine,” says Dr. David Richardson, an orthopedic surgeon at Campbell Clinic who specializes in foot and ankle care and is the founder of the Memphis event. “When the program went national in 2007, the organization linked up with Soles4Souls to have the shoes provided, and Memphis was one of the first expansion sites. That’s also when the local partnership began between Campbell Clinic and the Memphis Union Mission.”
“Every year, during the week of Thanksgiving, the foot specialists at Campbell Clinic do a free clinic for our guests to address whatever foot issues they might have,” says Carpenter. “We started at the main shelter at 383 Poplar, then moved across the street to 600 Poplar where we have more open space. The timing is intentional, giving a tangible meaning for being thankful, as well as trying to get good shoes on feet prior to the coldest weather.”
According to Richardson, the foot examinations deal with a variety of foot-related issues such as nail deformities that can lead to larger issues if not addressed, fungal infections, ingrown toenails, corns, and calluses.
“In addition to the exams, we also provide each person with a brand-new pair of shoes or work boots, as well as a new pair of socks,” says Richardson. “The majority of footwear is donated by Red Wing Shoes and the socks are provided through the Campbell Clinic Foundation. We collect well over 500 pairs of socks ever year. Campbell Clinic employees also bake and wrap cookies to offer along with bottled water and other snacks.”
Richardson continues, “Most of the participants are men who are staying at the Memphis Union Mission as homeless guests, but there are others, including homeless women, who hear of the event by word-of-mouth within the local community. At our last event we served at least 140 folks.”
Carpenter says the collaboration extends the ministry offerings of Memphis Union Mission: “It allows us to provide a service that we could not do otherwise.”
Typically, Richardson is joined by 10 healthcare practitioners (orthopedic surgeons, physician assistants, and medical students) and several more volunteers from Campbell Clinic. Some exams lead to referrals to Church Health or Methodist Hospital for ongoing care, with a written diagnosis to present to another healthcare provider.
“At Campbell Clinic, our mission is to provide excellence in patient care and orthopedic leadership in community service,” says Richardson. “Working with the Memphis Union Mission has allowed us access to those in need who are often in the shadows. It’s been a wonderful partnership for us and we look forward to the Soles4Souls event every year. And there is always a need for new shoes and socks.”