More than 700 people – including at least 100 children – attended the third annual “Boot-Up Philly” event on the chilly morning of Saturday, Nov. 4 in the parking lot of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Center City.

The event was hosted by St. John’s Hospice, a Catholic Social Services (CSS) shelter and life-sustaining services-provider for men experiencing homelessness.

“It’s a coming together of many organizations, schools, parishes, and our donors to make this [event] happen,” said Kris Jaeger, Director of Development and Community Relations for St. John’s Hospice.

Before becoming a formal event, St. John’s Hospice had been giving away winter boots every Fall to those in dire need for over a decade, says Jaeger. “It was a much smaller scale [previously],” she said.

Inspiration came from St. John Neumann, whose compassion for the poor was so great, he would literally offer those in need the shoes from his feet when serving as Philadelphia’s fourth bishop in the mid-19th century.

Boot-Up Philly launched in 2021, amidst the COVID pandemic, and at a time when more people than ever before were in need of crucial services.

“Now it’s a full-day event, and hopefully [has] like a block party feel,” said Jaeger.

>>>PHOTO FEATURE: Scenes from St. John’s Hospice “Boot Up Philly” Event

Despite temperatures in the 40s, many volunteers were on hand greeting people as they entered the parking lot. Music was provided by a DJ, free food was available, and children enjoyed jumping in a castle-like Moon Bounce.

“We want [people] to have a very hospitality-forward experience,” said Jaeger.

Visitors were given bags, provided by WSFS Bank, to fill with new, warm winter clothing including coats, boots, socks, and underwear as along with various essential personal care items.

All of the items are new, “which is incredibly important” to the recipients, says Jaeger.

St. John’s ran a campaign leading up to this event, “and it was an amazing showing of support,” Jaeger said.  The funds collected during the lead up phase were used to purchase more boots, coats, and many other items distributed at the event.

Amy Stoner, Director of  CSS’ Housing and Homeless Services Division, described the event as a joyful experience.  “Everything we had went and we didn’t have to turn anyone away.  The support from parishes, volunteers, and our partners was amazing,” she said.

Archdiocesan staff and clergy were on hand for the giveaway event including Deacon Franz Fruehwald (back left); Fr. Dennis Weber (front left); Fr. Sean Bransfield; Fr. Philip Bochanski; Amy Stoner; and Robert Whomsley. (John Wesley Photography)

St. John’s received onsite support at the event from other archdiocesan programs and ministries, including Nutritional Development Services, the Communities of Don Guanella and Divine Providence, and Visitation Homes. They were on hand to distribute items and educate visitors about other services available to them through the various charitable ministries operated by the Catholic Church throughout the five-county area.

Help was provided by others in the Philadelphia region, including health insurance agency, Independence Blue Cross, a sponsor of the event.

Thousands of socks were collected and distributed by St. Dominic’s Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. It conducted this effort as a service opportunity as part of its 175th anniversary celebration.

Saint Mary’s Interparochial School,  located at 5th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia, collected underwear and socks for over a month and featured their drive at the school’s annual “Harvest Hoedown” to boost efforts.

Knights of Columbus Rábida Council 1191, based at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, collected children’s coats and other winter clothing items for distribution.

“The chilly morning was a reminder that winter will soon be here,” said Mickey Kelly of La Rábida Council 1191.

Help was even provided from outside the Philadelphia region. More coats were supplied by the religious lay organization, the Order of Malta, both the Federal Association in Washington, D.C. and the American Association in New York City. Additional socks came courtesy of Knock Knock Give A Sock, a New York organization that raises awareness about  plight of the homeless and their constant need for fresh socks.

“It’s always a great experience, just helping anyone,” said Jaeger.  “I think there’s this exchange of gratitude that we have for one another.”

She indicated that the goal of the event is to offer these products “with a feeling of hospitality and welcome so that people feel respected.”

A volunteer at “Boot Up Philly” helps distribute cold-weather essentials to those in need prior to the upcoming winter season. (John Wesley Photography)