Warm socks, sturdy footwear and compassionate connection raise spirits

December 15, 2017


There are so many stories of thanks, Dr. Warren Taranow isn't sure where to begin. For instance, there's the 5-year-old girl who told Taranow, an orthopedic surgeon in Bellingham, Wash., that the program he spearheads gave her the first pair of new shoes she's ever had.

Men wait in line outside Depot Market Square in Bellingham, Wash., to receive new boots and foot care at the Nov. 21 Hearts to Soles event sponsored by PeaceHealth. Women and children picked out shoes and got care at a different location that same day.

Or the homeless man who said that the shoes he was supplied enabled him to secure a landscaping job. Or the 17-year-old high school student who lived in the woods after his parents shut their home to him. Taranow's initiative, Hearts to Soles, arranged for new pants, shoes, sweatshirts, socks, gloves and a jacket for this young man to help him stay warm during Washington's blustery winter months.

"I love Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest. This is a vehicle for me to give back to the community," said Taranow, who is affiliated with PeaceHealth. The system has hospitals and clinics in Bellingham as well as other cities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded PeaceHealth in 1890.

"This program promotes community health," Taranow said of Hearts to Souls. Improper or insufficient clothing can lead to significant medical conditions and can contribute to employment difficulties. The gift of care and shoes can make such a difference to those trying to recover from, or step out of, homelessness," Taranow added.

Hearts to Soles, which strives to bring quality shoe wear and medical foot care to the underserved, was begun in Pittsburgh, in 2005 by Dr. Stephen Conti, who was a mentor to Taranow. Two years later, Taranow started the program in Whatcom County, where Bellingham is located, scheduling it around Thanksgiving.

Certified nurse assistant Laura Basart, foreground, and registered nurse Josie Carrillo provide foot care at the Hearts to Soles event. Both women work for PeaceHealth.

"That first year, we provided shoes to about 100 men at the city's Lighthouse Mission," said Taranow, adding that the event has grown significantly over the past decade. It now includes women and children from other area shelters, in addition to homeless men.

This year, two days before Thanksgiving, 40 PeaceHealth volunteers — orthopedic surgeons, nurses, and clinical and nonclinical staff — provided 420 of the city's underserved with free foot examinations and medical orthotics. They also received a personal care bag that included two pair of waterproof socks; a hygiene kit; lip balm; a foot care kit; and a pair of sturdy, waterproof boots.

Among the 420 were 20 children who were outfitted with warm coats, clothing and backpacks in addition to shoes, boots, socks and gloves. Since 2010, PeaceHealth also has provided flu shots at the event.

"The doctors and nurses clean the client's feet, trim overgrown toenails, remove warts and treat calluses and any other foot issues," explained Barbara Lupo, Hearts to Soles program coordinator. "If there is a grave situation in which more extensive foot care is needed, we will provide an appointment so that they can get the necessary treatment to hopefully remedy the problem."

Dr. Warren Taranow, organizer of the Heart to Soles event in Bellingham, Wash., delivers foot care.

Lupo said that Superfeet, a Washington manufacturer of shoe insoles, annually donates between $8,000 and $10,000 toward the purchase of boots, plus insoles to make the boots fit.

PeaceHealth Orthopedics contributes $5,000 in medical supplies. Other funding comes from individuals working for PeaceHealth who donate to the program through an account set up by the PeaceHealth Foundation. A "giving tree" was set up this year at PeaceHealth's orthopedic and pediatric clinics so that staff and others could donate specific items that were needed, such as women's shoes and children's clothes.

"The biggest surprise has been the joy, the gratitude and the pride amongst the people we have served despite their often dire circumstances," said Taranow. "Many are homeless. Psychiatric and social disorders are quite common in this population.

"Another surprise is the joy and sense of well-being that occurs with first-time volunteers as they connect with people they may have seen while walking or driving downtown, or in a medical setting. At this event, you hear stories and realize the stereotypes we carry regarding this population are often wrong or misplaced."

Taranow said that similar Hearts to Soles events take place in about 40 cities nationwide. Lupo explained that part of her charge is to start the program at other hospitals within the PeaceHealth system throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Anthony McMillen, left, gets fitted for a pair of boots by Wayne Johnson of Superfeet.

"This program fully embraces the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph in trying to relieve the pain and suffering of those less fortunate," said Lupo. "This is an opportunity for us to reach out and partner with other community members to help serve the underserved."

Taranow recalled an anecdote told to him by Angela Gum, a registered nurse who has long volunteered at the event. When she recognized a man at the event she greeted him and asked him by name how he was doing. He, in turn, asked her how she knew his name.

"She told him she remembered him from the Hearts to Soles event from the year before," said Taranow. "He wept and told her, 'We're not folks people remember.'"





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