Nearly 300 homeless men and women will be walking with more of a skip in their step after attending the 6th Annual Inter-Faith Homeless Foot Washing hosted by WillBridge of Santa Barbara last week. Volunteers from throughout the community gathered together on Thursday morning at the Veteran’s Memorial Building to provide free services to members of the local homeless population, offering access to over 15 social service agencies as well as breakfast, an optional foot washing, personal hygiene kits, shoes, socks, and a sack lunch.
WillBridge — founded in 2003 by Lynnelle Williams and Gale Franco-Trowbridge to help care for Santa Barbara’s homeless population — has been hosting the event since 2008 with this year’s turnout exceeding that of previous years. With the help of Wayne Mellinger — who used to be homeless — WillBridge developed the annual offering to “hook people up with services” that the community provides that they otherwise may not have come into contact with. “Easter is about new beginnings, a new start” and WillBridge hopes to “break down the barrier between us and them” by bringing together people through the event, described Mellinger.
Receiving donations from such groups as Old Mission Santa Barbara, United Methodist Church, Montecito Covenant, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and New Life Church, among many others, WillBridge was able to collect around 350 pairs of shoes, 600 pairs of socks, personal hygiene kits, food, and other items. The turnout, with nearly twice the number of men to women, was significant as volunteers — including Al Gore’s daughter Sarah Gore Lee — handed out every one of the donated men’s shoes and most of the women’s shoes. Many people left the event expressing feelings of “peace of mind” and “release of stress,” with one attendee even describing their happiness that their shoes will no longer be “floppin’ in the wind.”
This year’s Community Resource Center included representatives from organizations such as the Salvation Army, The Mental Wellness Center, and Safe Parking Program as well as members of Doctors Without Walls - Santa Barbara Street Medicine. Dr. Jason Prystowsky, a volunteer emergency physician for Doctors Without Walls, explained how they were using the foot washing not only as an opportunity to care for the homeless and provide them with proper shoes but also as a way to assess any potential chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, that someone may need to receive treatment for. Prystowsky explained how homeless people are inevitably on their feet all the time, cope with poor hygiene, have shoes that do not fit, and often won’t change their shoes and socks for weeks for fear of them being stolen. The goal is to “develop a relationship to help them in time to get into a clinic” where they can then receive further, personalized care, he said.
Hoping to continue “Transforming Homeless To Hopeful,” WillBridge is still welcoming any donations from the community in order to provide properly sized shoes to those who left Thursday without receiving them as well as to continue providing their services to the community as a whole. WillBridge is looking for men’s and women’s shoes, with men’s sizes 8-12 and women’s sizes 6-10 being the most highly in demand. Gloria Regan of WillBridge noted how it is important to remember that “everybody has a story… it’s about making it personal,” and we need to continue reaching out to people in order to bring our community together.