Program warms feet and hearts Church's boot distribution reaches out to homeless for the 10th winter


It may be viewed as politically incorrect by some, but homeless men will get hard-toed work boots made in China for the 10th straight winter from Boots for Baltimore.

The expected 1,400 pairs of boots are mainly for men, not women, and made in China, not the United States. "We can't please everyone," said Mary Bready. "But we do get wonderful letters of thanks from shelters and the men who get the boots."

Bready is one of 10 volunteers -- nine women and one man -- from the Church of the Redeemer who make up the drive. With virtually no overhead, they raise more than $30,000 each year to buy the boots for $25 a pair, at or below cost, from Sunny's Surplus.

"The idea is neat and simple," Bready said. "Give us $25 and it buys a pair of boots -- leather, high-top, steel-toed, insulated work boots for homeless men. It helps them get jobs they couldn't without boots, and it keeps them warm in winter."

Bready said many recipients over the years have been able to find temporary jobs. And, if they didn't, at least the boots kept their feet warm.

A few critics ask why the group doesn't provide boots for women and why it doesn't buy American.

"We do sometimes buy boots for women who, like men, need them as a condition for work," she said. "Social agencies also tell us needy women get this kind of help more easily than men.

"If we bought them on the market or bought American-made boots, we'd be paying double the $25 and we would be helping only half the 1,400 we do now."

Margo Thomas, a parishioner, first identified the need for boots in 1987. Sherrill Nash and Suzanne Wills are remaining volunteers from the originating quartet.

The service works this way:

Bernie Hopkins at Sunny's orders the boots in May, knowing payment will be forthcoming. In 1995-1996, 235 church members and 40 businesses and foundations gave from $25 to $3,000 for the total of more than $30,000.

Homeless men in 23 shelters put in individual orders.

On Dec. 20, Sunny's delivers about 1,400 pairs to the church; it also donates a pair of socks for each pair of shoes. Volunteers box most boots and the agencies pick up the orders, helped by residents of the South Baltimore Station homeless shelter. Some boots are saved for later in the winter.

"A new list of recipients is made up each year. Some men are on the list three or four straight years," Bready said. "They're still homeless. At least they're alive and dry over the winter.

"Some of the men are not mentally competent to get jobs," she said. "But they can use a bit of tender loving care on their feet."

Some people make donations as holiday gifts in the name of others. When they send checks to Boots, they can receive, upon request, a gift card decorated with a drawing of a pair of boots by volunteer Lucy Meyer.

Tax-deductible donations may be sent to Boots for Baltimore, 5603 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21210.

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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