FOOTPRINTS OF MICHIGAN, INC., a unique nonprofit organization aimed at providing free shoes to those in need, hosted a shoe give-away at the Owosso-Saginaw Elks Lodge 47 in Owosso on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Standing near just a few of the over 500 pairs of shoes brought in for the event, are (from left) community outreach coordinator Andres Lechuga and Geronimo Lerma, who is the founder and owner of Footprints of Michigan. Footprints is a year-round free shoe operation. The home location is an office warehouse in Lansing, but the nonprofit group is often on the road to all parts of the state.
In 2018, Footprints gave away almost 11,000 pairs of shoes. “Even if it helps just one person, then that is one more person with shoes,” said Lerma. He started Footprints five years ago, and as of one year ago, he is committed to the nonprofit full-time. It is his passion and primary focus.
“Just helping out those in need, that’s what this is about. We deal a lot with the homeless and these shoes are their tires,” Lerma shared. He explained that during one week when the winter weather was terrible recently, Footprints gave out 55 pairs of winter boots – though it doesn’t stop with boots. Footprints offers numerous styles and sizes of athletic shoes, dress shoes, work shoes and more. All of the shoes are new or gently-used and all of them have been donated.
Lerma shared one story about a man who was just recently out of prison who had approached him because he needed a pair of steel-toe boots for a job he was trying to obtain in Mason. Four months later, once he was employed, the man returned to re-donate the boots and also make a $25 gift to the group.
Lerma was initially inspired to do something after he witnessed a teenage kid with shoes that were falling apart during a street walk event in Lansing. Lerma’s father, a double leg amputee, who passed away in 2009, had always taught him to “take care of your feet, because your feet get you through your journey.” Then while caring for his mother after she was diagnosed with kidney failure, Lerma happened to be doing dishes in her kitchen when he noticed her “Footprints in the Sand” curtains. The curtains weren’t new, but the concept suddenly struck him, and the idea for Footprints of Michigan came about.
“A lot of organizations aren’t able to give out shoes because of sanitary reasons,” Lerma said. “But we spray them all thoroughly.” Footprints has also put together shoe care packages for families who lost belongings in house fires, and from May through November, the group has a program called “Soles for Vets,” in support of veterans.
“We go all over. From Traverse City to Cadillac to Grand Rapids to Detroit,” he said. For more information, visit footprintsofmichigan.org or call (877) 811-7463.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)