Small Steps to Big Strides: Proper Foot Care for Those Who Need it Most

Photo: OrthoCarolina CEO and foot and ankle specialist Dr. Bruce Cohen treats a guest at the Men's Shelter of Charlotte.

Shoes are for more than just walking. Especially in the cold months of winter, they become critical when it comes to health and well-being.

Proper foot health is an essential part of everyday life and important to an overall health maintenance program, and for those who don’t always have a place to call home it can be challenging to take care of their feet the way they need to. Each November, the physicians of the OrthoCarolina Foot & Ankle Institute provide free foot screenings and new footwear to men served by the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte as part of the national Hearts to Soles program.

According to Randall Hitt, Director of Philanthropy at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, foot care impacts the men served by his program on a daily basis and is one of their top priorities. He answered our questions about how Hearts to Soles helps each year and why the effort is so important.

What kinds of backgrounds do the men have who come through the Men’s Shelter generally have?

Randall: Shelter guests must be 18 years of age or older, identify as male, and be experiencing literal homelessness. In 2017 we sheltered 1,854 men. Of those, 1,110 enrolled in our program for a shelter bed and access to program services. The other 744 spent a night in our shelter on a cot/mattress for “overflow” during inclement weather.

Here are more facts about our shelter guests:

  • 10%-15% are veterans;
  • Approximately 50% identify a disabling condition, including physical, mental and/or substance use challenges;
  • 12%-15% are fathers who have children 18 years of age or younger;
  • Nearly 50% have income, much of which is through employment.

Why is proper foot health so important to the men you serve?

Randall:  For the majority of shelter guests, their “transportation” is their feet. Whether walking to the bus line, or simply walking to their destination, their feet take a toll more-so than most of us. Foot challenges will aggravate a shelter guest’s already traumatic situation.

It’s a national program, but how many men locally are served by the Hearts to Soles program each year?

Randall:  Through the generosity of the Hearts to Soles program, 150-200 of our shelter guests have been served every year. Thank you!


Socks are one of the most requested items at many shelters nationwide; why is that?

Randall:  Socks are an essential part of proper foot health and take an extra “beating” on our shelter guests’ feet. Access to laundry can be limited; thus, many in a shelter aren’t properly maintaining their socks and they fall apart at a quicker rate. Plus, these socks aren’t covered with great shoes and are exposed much more to the outside weather elements, and they simply don’t last long. This is the reason why they are in such high demand at shelters.


If people want to get involved or help the clients of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, what’s the best way?

Randall:  Give your time. Engage in a collection drive. Make a financial contribution. You’ll find various ways in which you can get involved. Check out how to help for an opportunity that might be right for you.


Each year more than 500 volunteers in more than 40 cities nationwide participate in simultaneous free foot screenings and shoe donations across the United States. For more information visit Hearts to Soles.





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