Over 20 years ago, Bruce Cowburn, former FIRST UNITED staff member, was brought to tears when he witnessed our Foot Care Program in action for the first time.
Bruce described the sight, as quoted in Hope Lives Here: A History of Vancouver’s First United Church by Bob Burrows, saying:
“There was a [community member] playing classical guitar on the inside Gore Avenue stairs; [a staff member] on bended knee, adjusting the water temperature; [and] an elderly gent with his feet in the soothing water. I had to stop and catch my breath and wipe the water from my eyes. This powerful vision clearly reinforced in me the mission of [FIRST UNITED]. Love and care in action.”
When our Foot Care Program started in the late 90s, it wasn’t just staff members like Bruce who were moved by this program—community members were deeply appreciative of the opportunity to relax and receive some care. Many folks who are experiencing homelessness have sore feet from standing and walking all day—usually in unreliable or worn-out footwear. In Vancouver’s often rainy weather, it can mean soaked and blistered feet, which can be uncomfortable at best and painful at worst.
A warm and soothing foot bath, paired with clean and comfortable socks can go a long way for folks in need of some relief. It also provides an opportunity for community members to engage in meaningful conversations with staff and volunteers.
The inspiration for the program started one evening with a volunteer. At the time, WISH was still operating its drop-in centre out of our old building. The volunteer came in with a large bowl of water, some towels and essential oils, ready to offer foot care to women who were dropping in at WISH.
This humbling act of kindness was enough to motivate FIRST to turn it into a program, knowing that many in the community would need and enjoy this service. With advice and encouragement from the Main Street Health Clinic nurses, FIRST’s Foot Care Program was initiated.
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, we had to pause foot care for the safety of community members and staff. This year, we welcomed the return of the Foot Care Program, which now operates out of Spiritual Care’s temporary location at 360 Jackson.*
*Since the publication of this story, the Foot Care Program has been put on hold again.