When the shoe fits

For the kids in Camp Rise Up and the other children The Floating Hospital serves, “it’s all pretty much the same story. They can’t afford shoes, they’re wearing shoes too small for them, and they’re all hand-me-downs,” according to Dr. Meghan Miller, Director of Health Eduction at The Floating Hospital. Migrant families typically arrive here with only sandals on their feet, no matter the season.

But a recent partnership with Soles4Souls has helped address some of the need in The Floating Hospital community, providing new sneakers to campers and young patients currently lacking housing.

Soles4Souls tackles systemic poverty, but also helps people who are fleeing domestic violence, natural disasters, or war and political unrest. In the United States, its 4EveryKid program works with schools to give new athletic shoes to children experiencing homelessness.

Attracting the attention of an organization that is supplying new shoes and clothing to anywhere from 250 to 350 international partners annually could be daunting. But in 2022, The Floating Hospital’s Svetlana Stanarevic, Executive Assistant/Grants Coordinator, Foundation Relations, said she simply sent an introductory email to Soles4Souls and requested its support. Her inquiry became the catalyst for a successful nonprofit partnership.

A selection of shoes available for Camp Rise Up kids

Responding to Stanarevic’s email was Tiffany Turner, Soles4Souls’s Vice President of Outreach. “I remember getting the initial email from Lana,” Turner said in a warm drawl. She recalled Stanarevic’s description of The Floating Hospital’s Camp Rise Up and “what they do for their youth experiencing homelessness. I was immediately intrigued.” This was because of the concept, and because the mission of the 4EveryKid program was so well aligned with the request. She saw the fit right away, “and that really began our discussions and our partnership.”

Donations to the hospital from Soles4Souls began with 150 pairs of shoes and 300 pairs of socks for the 2022 class of Camp Rise Up. The weeklong camp offers life-skills training and adventure for kids, ages 12-15, living in New York City’s family homeless shelters and other temporary housing.

“We really appreciate Tiffany and what they’ve been able to do for us the last couple of years,” Miller said. Many kids were coming to camp with Crocs or slides and weren’t able to participate in activities like hiking or the zip line. They needed sneakers, which is what prompted Stanarevic to make the introduction.

“When you’ve been in enough places that are doing this type of work, you can feel when there is a cohesive community working together.” Tiffany Turner, Soles4Souls’s Vice President of Outreach

In 2023, Soles4Souls increased its support, supplying the camp and clinic with 500 pairs of shoes and 1,050 pairs of socks. Late last year, Turner and her husband had a tour of the clinic with Stanarevic and Miller. The site visit helped Turner better understand the scope of the hospital and its needs.

“When you are able to go on site, conversations can happen more easily. You understand even more of what they’re doing and can see their capacity,” Turner said. “It’s not uncommon for me with any of our partners, if there’s a donation opportunity that comes up somewhere that might be a good fit, I will reach out and ask, is this something you’d want? Is this is something you’d need?” This happens more naturally after she’s seen up close how an organization functions. “Because we never, ever want to add to the problem at all…We try to be as intentional as possible with what we’re doing and our partnerships.”

This year’s 4EveryKid donations, given solely to children experiencing homelessness, include 1,000 shoes and 1,000 pairs of socks for distribution in the clinic, as well as 500 hoodies that should arrive soon. A shoe shipment later in the year will support the camp again as well as the clinic’s annual Candy Cane Lane event, where families are offered an array of new winter gear, clothing, and sleepwear, and children can also select toys for the holidays.

Of her visit to The Floating Hospital, Turner said she was struck by “the sense of community with the staff. You can really feel it. When you’ve been in enough places that are doing this type of work, you can feel when there is a cohesive community working together.” She was also touched after witnessing the care given to the families that were being served that day.

Then she met Ernesto Hart, The Floating Hospital’s Dental Manager, who told her about the clinic’s reconstructive dental services. “That really touched me, because at our organization we are all about how do we dignify an individual with a donation,” she said. “We want to provide a need and a want. We want people to feel proud of what they have, and we want that to be part, hopefully, of their path shifting.”

Socks for Camp Rise Up kids

Noting that much of the clothing the clinic receives is second-hand, Miller said “it’s rare to get donations of that size that are brand new.” And they are from brands like Puma and Reebok, “names that people recognize and they’re not ashamed to wear at school.”

Soles4Souls sends enough pairs that Miller and the education team can set up the classroom like a shoe store with the sneakers sorted by size. The kids “sit down, try them on, walk around, look in the mirror. They really get their choice. Poor people in temporary housing don’t often have that experience.”

As far as Turner is concerned, “we couldn’t do this work without partners, like the Floating Hospital. We don’t do what The Floating Hospital does, right? We don’t provide medical and dental care in New York City to underserved populations. They don’t do what we do.”

“The beauty of partnerships is when we can come alongside each other with our resources and just basically collaborate to make sure that they have things that they can add on to their programs that serve their clients. And we in turn, are continuing to broaden our network and our reach of service,” she said. “We can’t do it without the partnerships. Everybody says this, but it really is true. It takes a village of people doing this work.”

This post is featured in our monthly newsletter from April 2024.

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The Floating Hospital provides high-quality healthcare to anyone who needs it regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, immigration or insurance status, or the ability to pay. By providing unrestricted medical care in tandem with health education and social support to vulnerable New York City families, The Floating Hospital aims to ensure those most in need have the ability to thrive, not just survive.


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