While chatter about Black Friday shopping bargains filled the airwaves Wednesday, patrons of the Medford Gospel Mission were being treated to something better than the biggest of holiday specials.
Our Hearts to Your Soles, a local effort under the charge of orthopedic surgeon (profession corrected) Rich Owens and local RN Michelle Caswell, set up shop with more than 300 pairs of shoes, twice as many pairs of socks and some basic medical care, including foot exams and flu shots.
In its fourth year, the event focused on helping the valley's most vulnerable population, many of whom spend much of their lives walking from place to place.
Waiting his turn for a foot exam and shoe fitting, Medford resident Adrian Henson, who is currently staying at the mission, said his new pair of shoes would help him to find permanent work.
Nursing a previously broken back, Henson applauded the group's efforts to help provide shoes.
"I do construction and worked two days last week. I've had a broken back, so that basically means 24/7 pain," he said.
"I have been in a position before where shoes were just not an issue and had a houseful of people. But the ebb and flow of my actions or inactions has an influence on my state of need right now, so I understand as much as anyone that shoes are both an expensive and very important thing. You can't stand up on your own feet when you can't function. The doctor doing this is a big-hearted podiatrist."
Nedra Rodriguez of Medford is not homeless but she struggles to make ends meet, so she showed up for shoes with two of her 11 grandchildren.
"I have a friend who is homeless, and I try to help her out when it's cold outside. She told me about this, and we needed some shoes so we came down here, too. It's really great, especially this time of year when it's hard to pay for everything you need," Rodriguez said.
"I've got four kids and 11 grandbabies — these two live with me. We got some brand-new shoes, so we're all real happy they did this. It helps us out a lot."
Caswell, who works for Pacific Healthcare Training, directed participants between various stations for flu shots, foot exams and fittings.
"For most of us, shoes are a pretty basic need," Caswell said. "But for some of these people, this event will make the difference of whether they're going to lose a toe or not — or the difference of whether they're going to be able to go to work."
Medford resident Loni Elliott, sorting through stacked boxes of men's and women's shoes, smiled at how patiently everyone waited in line.
"A lot of these people are walking so much and, medically speaking, everything you do is connected to your feet," she said. "It's very heartwarming. Even the people who are volunteering get really excited to be able to come do this. It's a big deal for people, and they've all been really grateful."
Medford resident Mark Horst showed up for the Wednesday event, he noted, "feeling like there was a rock in my shoe," his tennis shoes sporting several large holes.
"I was having a lot of issues with my feet, probably because of my shoes. I've got some kind of callus thing that kept growing back. It was extremely painful. He took care of that for me, and now hopefully having some different shoes will really help," Horst said.
"I've been needing shoes for so long but I kept putting it off. When I heard about them doing this, it was just a godsend for me."
At day's end, Owens reported that 163 pairs of shoes had been provided, along with 30 exams and 30 flu shots.
"We worried the weather might keep people away, but a lot of people have come through," Owens said.
"We've seen a lot of people who come back every year. Last year, we treated a guy who left his feet hanging out at night in the cold and it burned the ends off all his toes. We really like coming back every year to help. It's great seeing a lot of familiar faces, and a lot of people are pretty happy to see us come back."
Wednesday's event was sponsored through donations and volunteers from Paradise Shoes, Spectrum Orthotics and Prosthetics, Pacific Healthcare and Asante.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.