By Johnny Jackson
McDonough resident, Gary Stewart, is attempting to improve the lives of the working homeless.
Stewart, a 34-year-old orthopedic surgeon with the Atlanta-based Resurgens Orthopedics, will help provide screenings and fittings to 100 area homeless men as part of the non-profit "Our Hearts to Your Soles" campaign to assist the nation's homeless.
The campaign - in its fourth year nationally, and third year locally - is an event leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, more than 4,000 homeless persons at 40 different sites in cities nationwide are expected to receive new shoes, socks, and foot screenings.
As a founding member of the campaign, Stewart will participate in Georgia's only "Our Heart to Your Soles" event on Nov. 24. The event will be held from 6:30 p.m., to 8:30 p.m. at downtown Atlanta's Central Night Shelter, 201 Washington Street in Atlanta.
"It is a pleasure to be part of this event and provide help to those who need it," he said. "It is common for this population to suffer health issues from wearing shoes that don't fit properly, as they often don't have the resources available to help themselves. Our goal is to get them back on track to good health through the efforts of 'Our Hearts to Your Soles.'"
Stewart participated in the first such campaign in 2005, during his fellowship in foot and ankle surgery at Allegheny Hospital in Pittsburgh, Penn., where he met and collaborated with the campaign's founder, Steve Conti, an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital.
"Our Hearts to Your Soles" partners with Nashville-based "Soles4Souls," an international shoe charity dedicated to providing free footwear to people in need.
Since its inception, the campaign has also partnered with Red Wing Shoe Company, as well as other sponsors assisting in the growth of the national events. Red Wing recently donated 12,000 pairs of high-quality footwear to Soles4Souls, Inc., for the homeless event.
"We are so thankful to Dr. Stewart and Central Night Shelter for reaching out to provide a vital service that helps make an immediate impact on people in a great time of need," said Wayne Elsey, founder and CEO of Soles4Souls. "A pair of durable boots can fill a person with hope and confidence. It's a major step toward employment and building self-esteem."
Stewart, who has offices in Morrow and McDonough, specializes in sports-related injuries of the foot and ankle; total ankle replacement; re-constructive surgery related to trauma, arthritis or a deformity; complex fracture care; the role of electrical stimulation in foot surgery; and treatment of diabetic foot disease.
"You'll find a lot of homeless guys wearing old shoes," Stewart said. "And a lot of them are working during the day and sleeping at area homeless shelters. Those guys need decent shoes to wear. A brand new pair of shoes can help go a long way. If your feet are feeling good, you'll feel good."
Stewart's hope is to expand the event locally, by conducting it twice a year and obtaining more local sponsors. "My goal, really, is not only to provide foot care for these men," he said. "But I also want to raise awareness of homelessness. Homelessness is a huge problem in this community, and some of these men are the working poor. And as a medical care professional, I want to support that grassroots [awareness] cause," he added. "Hopefully, we can expand this to include women and children, too."
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