(Jaeyeon Lim/Pixabay)

Amid a warm September, an archdiocesan ministry is gathering gear to protect its clients from the cold.

St. John’s Hospice (SJH) in Philadelphia has just launched its first “Boot Up Philly” drive to purchase 1,000 sets of footwear, socks and undergarments for individuals experiencing homelessness. A donation of $35 will cover a single set.

The campaign, which runs from now through Oct. 23, has a target goal of $35,000, which will be matched by SJH’s advisory board.

Any leftover balance from the collection will be applied to the ministry’s annual appeal, which helps sustain an array of crucial supports SJH offers to men experiencing homelessness in the city’s downtown neighborhood.

Each weekday, SJH – which is operated by Catholic Social Services (CSS) — provides more than 300 meals to its residential and day guests, as well as case management, on-site nursing, daily showers and a mail room.

A beneficiary of the Catholic Charities Appeal, the facility annually houses some 250 men transitioning from homelessness to independent living.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, SJH has been a lifeline for its clients, and with “Boot Up Philly,” the ministry hopes to increase its footprint, said SJH development director Elizabeth Small.

The Oct. 23 distribution event for the initiative, which runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., will also feature giveaways of food courtesy of archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services, along with feminine hygiene products and personal care items donated by CSS.

“We want to make it a kind of one-stop-shopping for clients,” she said.

While SJH is actually named for St. John the Evangelist, the “Boot Up Philly” campaign’s practical, all-around approach was inspired by St. John Neumann, the beloved Philadelphia saint after whom the drive modeled.

Known for his extreme self-sacrifice and generosity to the poor, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia once joked that the only way he could change his shoes was by putting the right one on the left foot, since he only had a single pair.

A tireless missionary and evangelizer, St. John Neumann also logged hundreds of miles over difficult terrain, often on foot – and could well sympathize with the painful ailments SJH’s clients can face due to inadequate footwear.

A 2016 study found that up to two thirds of those experiencing homelessness suffer from podiatric pain, limited mobility, frostbite, gangrene, and trench foot (or immersion foot), which occurs when feet are wet for long periods of time. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can compound these issues.

“Boot Up Philly” aims to make sure its clients are safe from foot-related illnesses – and from hunger, isolation and despair, said Small.

“We just want to do more outreach,” she said.

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To donate to the “Boot Up Philly” campaign at St. John’s Hospice, visit the ministry’s website, or send contributions to St. John’s Hospice, P.O. Box 781048, Philadelphia, PA 19178-1048. Make checks payable to “St. John’s Hospice” and note “Boot Up Philly” in the memo field.