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Saving Soles

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By John Stegeman

When Jesus washed the feet of his apostles, He showed them what it means to act with humility and love. In Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Footcare for the Souls combines that selfless act with an effort to uplift and care for people in poverty.

Based in the St. Anthony Center near Liberty and Republic Streets, Footcare for the Souls is one of the St. Francis Seraph Ministries. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, people experiencing homelessness or poverty may come to the center to have their feet washed and treated.

Their experience starts with a soak and toenail trimming. Many clients experience skin breakdowns, ingrown toenails, fungus or other substantial problems, which can be treated at the center, said Executive Director Mary Pat Raupach.

She noted that Program Director Beverly Clayton is a nurse practitioner, and many volunteers also have medical experience, although volunteers without clinical experience are welcome and needed too.

Each client leaves with at least a fresh pair of socks and, sometimes, new shoes. “There’s such joy on some people’s faces,” Raupach said. “Some of them have been suffering with ingrown toenails or whatever their issue may have been for weeks. To see their faces as they leave… is very, very rewarding.”

For many clients, their visit to Footcare for the Souls is a respite from life on the streets; but for one recent client, it was a lifesaver. Josh* is an otherwise healthy man in his late 20s who arrived complaining of severe pain in both feet. After removing the man’s socks, Clayton encountered the worst frostbite she’d ever seen, with significant skin damage.

Clayton knew the man needed more than the center could provide, but still applied topical antibiotics and wrapped his feet carefully. The staff called 911, and one of the firemen responders later told staff that Footcare for the Souls’ treatment likely saved Josh’s feet. Raupach said Josh still visits St. Francis Seraph Ministries.

“We’ve seen people [come] in that have had a really bad day, a really bad week or month,” Raupach said. “They’ve been on the street, terrible weather. They’ll go into that room, and they’ll come out transformed, calm, happy, joyful. Then they keep coming back … for routine care. We actually are hoping, at some point, to expand the program because we don’t have enough space for the demand. That’s how many people want it.”

St. Francis Seraph Ministries operates under the auspices of the newly formed Our Lady of Guadalupe Province of the Franciscan Friars. It manages several programs, including a dining room that offers free breakfast and dinner, Monday through Friday, to people in need. The ministries leverage the combined power of numerous nonprofits based in the St. Anthony Center.

Established in 2017, the St. Anthony Center is a collaborative effort to serve people experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati. Its current partners are: Center for Respite Care; Franciscan Ministries’ Haircuts from the Heart; Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services; Mary Magdalen House; Welcome Home Collaborative; and St. Francis Seraph Ministries. While each is an independent entity, they refer clients to each other to best serve the clients’ needs.

“What we do is nourishing and nurturing,” Raupach said. “That can be done in so many ways: a listening ear, humor, music, friendship. That’s the goal of all of our programs.” Learn more about St. Francis Seraph Ministries at SFSministries.org.

This article appeared in the March 2024 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here

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