- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2000

It's a typically chaotic Wednesday evening at Central Presbyterian Church's downtown night shelter.
The pungent odor of VapoRub and Clorox hangs in the air as volunteers fill basins with warm water, detergent and disinfectant. They lay out white towels and washcloths, toenail clippers and rubber latex gloves.
The time has come to wash the feet of the homeless.
Eight pairs of folding chairs are crammed into a makeshift clinic a series of several rooms, the biggest 7 feet by 20 feet between the church's fourth-floor elevator and a gymnasium where the homeless men sleep.
Stanford Howard is one of the first to find a seat. He's welcomed by volunteer Ike Lee and asked to soak his feet in one of the basins of water.
"That feels real nice," says Mr. Howard, 30ish, wearing gray pants, a purple sweatshirt, black ski cap and beat-up tennis shoes.
He relaxes as the evening ritual begins.
Nearby, volunteer Eckhart Richter greets James Franklin, washes and dries his feet and starts a careful inspection, looking for the types of problems afflicting someone who spends all day on his feet: Blisters and bunions. Corns and calluses. Warts and fungus. Athlete's foot.
Mr. Richter trims Mr. Franklin's nails, sands away calluses with a Dr. Scholl's grater, applies fungicide between his toes and massages in some VapoRub. Then he offers Mr. Franklin a new pair of white cotton socks.
Some men have holes in their socks and blood on their feet. Mr. Franklin has an ingrown toenail that Mr. Richter says will require medical treatment.
The process is repeated throughout the night and every Wednesday between November and March, the five months Central Night Shelter operates.
The facility, founded in 1980, is like no other, a shelter too big for one church to handle. Part of an all-volunteer ecumenical project that enlists volunteers from 35 churches plus civic and business organizations, it is housed at Central Presbyterian and the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
These two downtown churches, both near the state Capitol, predate the Civil War and were built side by side, their back doors facing each other.
The foot-washing program was begun in the mid-1980s by a family practitioner, Dr. Robin Line, who was inspired by the biblical Gospel of John, which describes Jesus washing the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper.
"It's a powerful example of Christ saying this is what a life of love is about about serving and caring for one another, not being more powerful or important than someone else," says Mark Bashor, who has served as a shelter volunteer for nearly two decades and since 1988 as its director.
He characterizes the shelter as a ministry of hospitality for strangers.
"And the foot clinic," he says, "by adding the dimension of healing, makes it complete."
For the homeless, especially, bad feet can be bad news.
"If the feet hurt, the whole body hurts," says Dr. Martha Crenshaw. "And if the feet don't work right, then the person can't work."
Dr. Crenshaw, 47, runs a medical clinic affiliated with the foot program, which, conveniently, is coordinated by her husband, Ike Lee.
The couple, who live in Stone Mountain, Ga., have volunteered at Central Presbyterian since 1988 and headed their respective clinics since 1991. "It's our Wednesday night date," Dr. Crenshaw says.
"Washing feet is not going to solve a lot of problems in the men's lives," says Mr. Lee, also 47. "But if their feet feel a little better, it helps the rest of them feel better."
Orlando Harris agrees.
"This is a great service; it shows me love and caring," says Mr. Harris, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who has been living at the shelter for several weeks.
"A lot of people would say, 'I'm not going to touch a homeless person's feet.' People don't understand that the homeless walk and walk and walk all day, and our feet hurt," he says.
Mr. Lee and Dr. Crenshaw's 7-year-old son, Hal, who visited the clinic for the first time late last year, quickly reached his own conclusion about the homeless.
"These guys are just like the rest of us," he says.
It's a perspective that many volunteers like Mr. Richter, who's been working at the clinic since 1995, come to share through their labors.
A retired professor of music, Mr. Richter, 72, takes his foot care seriously. He's a student of reflexology, a type of massage therapy that focuses on the feet.
"The theory is that the foot holds 7,000 reflex areas and that the whole body can be treated by applying pressure to these reflex points," he says.
Mr. Richter treats Mr. Franklin with gentle pampering, rolling his knuckles over the homeless man's feet, then quickly vibrating his fingers across his soles.
A contented Mr. Franklin, dressed in a gray sweat shirt and baggy jeans, watches for a while, eventually finding the treatment so soothing that he falls asleep.
"Imagine the harshness that the homeless must experience all day long," says Mr. Richter. "Here is a moment where by giving a touch of kindness and comfort you are showing basic humanity. You affirm that person's dignity as a human being."
There are additional benefits.
"It's hard not to get to know a guy when his feet are in your lap," says Neil Satterfield of Duluth, a seven-year veteran of the clinic.
Mr. Satterfield, 67, remembers chatting with one man who began crying.
"I'm just so grateful to have someone to talk to," Mr. Satterfield recalls the man saying.
Such healing, Mr. Lee has learned, flows both ways.
Several years ago, the clinic director found himself washing the feet of the same man for several months.
At the time Mr. Lee was having difficulty coping with the failing health of his father, and he learned that the homeless man had recently lost his own father.
"By sharing what he went through, it helped me come to grips with my situation," says Mr. Lee.
Of course, the clinic helps the homeless forget for a few moments the pain and challenges they face each day.
"It's a luxury," volunteer Ann Hunter says. "And these men don't have many luxuries in their lives."
It's a luxury they don't take for granted.
"The men seem grateful and amazed," Mr. Lee says. "They can't believe someone would do this for them."

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