Volunteers gather to aid feet

During the harsh Alaskan winter freezes, a group of 10-15 men and women come together every month to do the selfless job of soothing the feet of Anchorage’s neediest.
In an act that’s reminiscent of biblical stories, one woman took it upon herself to organize volunteers to seasonally wash the un-pampered, neglected feet of Anchorage’s homeless.
Nurse practitioner Laurel Andrews has been holding these clinics at the nonprofit soup kitchen, Bean’s Café for 13 years.
Volunteers come together once a month from October to either April or May, depending on the severity of the winter, to set up buckets of warm soap water and sit down for an afternoon of conversation and comfort-giving.
“[It started as] a school project. and [I] got hooked on taking care of the homeless,” said Andrews, a UAA graduate.
Andrews comes across as humble and modest, but to many, she’s a saint. An article run by the Anchorage Daily News last year brought the clinic nationwide attention, and in turn donations from all over the country. Before that though, Andrews paid for almost everything herself; the towels, soap, Mole Skins, bandages, and everything else utilized at the clinic.
Today she not only continues to organize the clinics and work as presiding nurse on duty, but her whole family gets involved as well.
For Andrew’s clientele, the foot washing is not just about cleanliness but overall health. There have been times when volunteers have had to call in emergency assistance for severely frostbitten or gangrenous extremities.
Andrews recalled an incident last month of a homeless man who was brought in by his girlfriend.
“His feet were frozen [solid]. you know, what it’s like when chicken is frozen.” The man wanted to warm his feet up quickly but the volunteers insisted on being very careful to keep them frozen until an ambulance came so the man didn’t lose his feet.
For those who have problems with their feet that don’t need immediate emergency attention, Andrews refers them to a podiatrist who makes regular visits to the Brother Francis Shelter.
Despite the unfortunate occurrences when visitors need emergency medical treatment, the volunteers seem to enjoy the time they spend helping others.
Deborah McGee, the clinic’s secretary has been volunteering for two years. “I wish it was every week. It’s such a great experience,” she said. “It’s not just about healthy feet. It’s about a one-on-one communication with someone. With the ‘customers’ – that’s what I like to call them. Giving them respect and tender loving care. That’s what I get out of it.”
They are not only given a foot wash, massage and aid, but they also leave with a goody bag of socks, quarters to make phone calls, bus tokens and candies. With the recent increase in donations, boots have also become part of the package for some.
The clinic is currently only equipped to aid about 30 people at a time. “We all really hate turning people away, but it’s about all we can do with limited supplies,” McGee said.
“But you should see it. We have regulars that get washed every month. When they see us coming, they line up. It’s a really well received program. Laurel Andrews is really the star. She’s done an amazing thing by creating this program.”