Feet, especially homeless feet, can be scary or intimidating for many. But as Kailen Bricker cared for one pair after another, she felt her perceptions change and became far more interested in the people to whom they were attached. “They are just like us,” she said of the 30 or so homeless clients who come to Matt Talbot Community Kitchen and Outreach each month for Union College’s foot clinic
“One client told me he has a job, how he loves computers, and that his daughter is in college,” said the first-year nursing student. “They are like us, they just don’t have access to the same kind of care.”
Since 1993, Union College students have served Lincoln’s homeless population by providing foot care, socks and shoes for people who need it. Always funded by grants and contributions, today the program received a significant boost in the form of a $20,000 grant from Tom’s of Maine as part of their “50 States for Good” community giving program.
And for students like Bricker, the foot clinic not only makes a significant impact on Lincoln’s homeless, but on her educational experience as well. “I love people,” said the western Nebraska native who also works as a CNA in the memory unit of an assisted living center. “I learned about patient education. They know we are there to help them, so they listen.” Part of each student’s job is to teach the clients about how to care for their feet. “They are genuinely appreciative, and that’s what I love about it.”
The Union College Foot Clinic is one of 52 winners from across the country in the seventh annual “50 States for Good” program at Tom’s of Maine. This year the company received nearly 10,000 submissions, and selected one entrant from each state and Washington D.C. to received funding.
“This year’s nonprofit recipients bring to life an inspiring picture of the care that Americans have for each other and their communities,” said Susan Dewhirst, goodness programs manager at Tom’s of Maine. “People often think giving back to their community is time intensive, and we wanted to show there are easy ways to make a difference, like raising awareness for a cause you love and supporting brands that strive to make the world a better place for future generations.”
“At Union College, we believe the body is a divine gift,” said Nicole Orian, chair of the Division of Nursing. “This affects everything we do. It influences our teachers and why they do what they do. It affects our students and what motivates them. It changes our curriculum. We believe that nursing is a calling, not just a job. This gift from Tom’s of Maine allows students to live their calling of service to others. God has chosen us to help the least of these, and at Union, we take that commission seriously.”
Providing foot care
Each month a group of Union College nursing and physician assistant studies students spend several hours at Matt Talbot Community Kitchen and Outreach cleaning, healing and pampering the feet of Lincoln’s homeless and near homeless.
“It starts with soaking feet in antibacterial soapy water—kind of like when you get a pedicure,” said Amy Golter, the Union College nursing instructor who manages the clinic for the nursing program. “Then we clean their feet, trim and file nails, take care of any wounds or other concerns that need to be addressed. They can also have their toenails painted if they want.”
The students soften callouses with a pumice stone and apply antifungal cream when needed. “We give them the whole tube and tell them how to properly use it,” said Bricker.
But for her and most other students, the experience goes beyond foot care. “I made it a point to be especially personable and friendly,” she said. “This is not only about giving foot care, but about being a friend to that person and getting to know them. Everyone needs a friend.”
After the foot care is complete, each client receives two pairs of socks, and a new pair of shoes every six months. “We used to just take a lot of shoes down there, but we are starting to change our system,” said Golter. “Now they sign up and a Matt Talbot employee purchases the shoes they want. It gives them a little more freedom to choose the color and type of shoe.”
Matt Talbot employees support the clinic in a variety of ways. Each client is required to fill out paperwork, and Matt Talbot employees manage the paperwork and determine when each is eligible for new shoes. Matt Talbot also supplies the space for the clinic and storage for some items in between clinics.
Meeting an unmet need
The Foot Clinic began as a master’s class community research project by Laura Karges and Maurine Shambarger, both nursing clinical instructors at Union College at the time. The two decided to interview Lincolnites served by Daywatch, an organization that provided a variety of services for the homeless. “We discovered they needed fresh fruit to eat and shoes,” said Karges. “They went through shoes like crazy because they walked everywhere in all kinds of weather. A lot of times they slept in their shoes because their feet were cold.”
The two nurses wrote up their findings, and Karges moved away from Lincoln soon after. But with Shambarger’s encouragement, the nursing program didn’t let the report lie. After doing some research on foot care procedures, the nursing program piloted a program with the Gather Place and later partnered with Daywatch to create a foot care clinic—staffed by Union nursing students—to serve the homeless at their facility. When Daywatch later closed, they moved the operation to Matt Talbot Community Kitchen and Outreach.
Karges, who returned to teach at Union in 1998, still holds the program close her heart and has seen the difference in students like Kailen Bricker. “Many of the students are nervous because I don’t think a lot of them have any experience communicating with homeless individuals, so they have no idea what it will be like,” she said. “I think the students are amazed that they are just regular folks who are having a rough time, and it’s a real treat for them to sit down and have somebody pamper them a little bit. Students see this population in a totally different light. It’s not those bums sleeping in the park—it’s those nice folk who are having a really hard time.”
Funding the project
Initially, the nursing program ran foot clinics every three weeks, and in 1999, they joined forces with the new physician assistant studies program to share access to this learning and service opportunity. Now both nursing and physician assistant students are required to participate in the foot clinic at least once as part of their clinical academic requirements, but many choose to volunteer throughout their college career.
According to Cliff Korf, the Union College PA professor who manages the foot clinic finances and equipment, they need between $6,500 and $9,000 per year to fund the purchases of shoes and other supplies. “The foot clinic is mostly funded through grants from various organizations and contributions from individuals,” he said. “Union College employees have gifted socks for the last several years using a ‘Christmas Sock Tree’ at the annual holiday party.”
Besides the support from Matt Talbot Community Kitchen and Outreach, Payless ShoeSource significantly discounts shoes for the program. According to Orian, the foot clinic serves an average of 260 adults each year and an additional 100 children during the Children’s Foot Clinic before the beginning of each school year.
The Tom’s of Maine award will be a significant boost to the foot clinic and the services offered. “Maurine Shambarger’s son first told me about the Tom’s of Maine ‘50 States for Good’ program,” said Orian. “Maurine passed away some time ago, but her legacy lives on through the foot clinic and lives that it touches. Now, thanks to her son’s suggestion and to Tom’s of Maine, we’ll be able to do even more for the Lincoln community.”
To learn more or watch a video about the Union College foot clinic, visit www.ucollege.edu/nursing/foot-clinic
More about Tom’s of Maine
Tom’s of Maine is a leading natural products company focused on oral and personal care carrying high-quality toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, antiperspirant, deodorant, bar soap, lip balm, and baby shampoo and lotion products. For over 45 years, Tom’s of Maine has invested in hundreds of nonprofit efforts by giving 10 percent of its profits back to organizations that support people and the planet and by encouraging employees to use 5 percent (12 days) of paid time to volunteer. Most Tom’s of Maine products are vegan, kosher and halal certified and gluten-free. All packaging is recyclable through a partnership with upcycling leader TerraCycle or participating municipalities. Tom’s of Maine values partnering with its consumers, suppliers and community organizations to support lasting, positive change that is good for people and the planet. To learn more visit us online at tomsofmaine.com
By Ryan teller, director of public relations