Helping someone with a simple and gentle gesture of assistance is a mission that, quite literally, starts from the ground up at Footprints of Michigan.
In 2014, Lansing resident Geronimo Lerma III attended a street walk with a local organization. On that walk, the group noticed a man. He was young, homeless and wearing shoes that were duct-taped and tattered. One of the walk participants made a call to her husband, who quickly delivered a pair of gently worn shoes for the man. The man lit up as he threw his extremely worn pair into the trash.
That small action and big reaction sparked the seed of an idea for Lerma. That same year he founded Footprints of Michigan. The nonprofit, which stepped up to full operation in 2018, provides warmth and dignity to those in need through the distribution of new and gently used footwear.
Like many other nonprofits, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the organization financially.
“We canceled 90% of our fundraisers,” said Lerma, noting that the organization has been forced to be creative on raising funds to continue the Footprints mission. There are no paid employees currently, including Lerma, who is executive director.
“You have to make a sacrifice to make your dreams a reality, and not receiving payroll is just one of them,” Lerma said. “The time will come where we can afford it, but until then we will take care of those who need it the most first.”
The organization sees a future where things get back on track and it can move into one building and house everything under one roof. Lerma said Footprints of Michigan is growing in the meantime and is going to need more volunteers to assist with the processing of donations, from sorting and cleaning footwear to distribution.
Asked how the community can support the organization, Lerma said there are several options.
“The community can host shoe/boot drives … or volunteer,” Lerma said. “Another way is financial support, whether it’s a one-time donation or a monthly reoccurring donation. It helps us sustain not just the operational cost of running the organization but purchasing of footwear when needed.”
Most people have those extra few pairs of shows in their closets that aren’t being worn, and Lerma said donating them will make a difference.
“If we have not walked a mile in their shoes, then we do not know what someone is going through,” he said.
All footwear donations are never sold and always go to those in need.
For more information about Footprints of Michigan and how you can make a “sole-ful” impact, visit footprintsofmichigan.org.