City College students gather to wash the feet of homeless people

Lauren Woods

Over two hundred pairs of tired feet will gather at the annually “Foot Washing for the Homeless” event, April 21, to be sanitarily soaked, cleaned and cared for by over eighty volunteers, including City College students.

The event will be held in the Veteran’s Memorial Building. The volunteers will take care of feet that are sore from wear and tear, battered with blisters, ingrown toenails, cracks, calluses or fungus after living on the streets.

The sponsor Willbridge of Santa Barbara, a non-profit organization that started in November 2003 by Lynnelle Williams, provides housing and outreach programs to the local homeless community and condenses these resources into the event, while volunteers wash feet to demonstrate an act of kindness.

“It’s a powerful thing, when you see a homeless person’s feet being washed,” said Dr. Wayne Mellinger, homeless advocate and former City College student. “The homeless person is [now] not a person with just a face, but a name and a story.”

Mellinger brought the “foot-washing” idea to Williams four years ago and the event has since been annual.

“The first one was so successful, we were basically asked by the homeless community, the providers and the mayor [to do it again],” Williams said. “It’s interesting because whoever wants to do the foot washing—they come early—to get their spot and don’t move until it’s over.”

Twelve service providers offer resources the day of the event, including HIV and Hepatitis testing, alcohol and drug counseling and opportunity for housing.

Booths are set up, offering breakfast, lunch, foot washing, distribution of new shoes and socks, hygiene kits, massages and manicures from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“It’s about talking to someone that you wouldn’t talk to before,” Mellinger said. “These are people that are on their feet a lot. The act of washing a person’s feet transforms both people.”

The foot washing takes place on Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, and the act can be seen in religious contexts all over the world on this day, according to Mellinger.

“I feel like it is misguided, but I like that people are doing something to help the community,” said Jaron Lake, a student at City College who has experience from living on the street. “Sometimes, I think it’s more of a show, like they want to look good. It’s called the good-guy badge,” he said.

Williams doesn’t agree and considers the event genuine.

“Our goal is threefold, our target population being mentally ill homeless adults living on the street [with] one, items that address their immediate needs, and two, assist them with connecting to community services and accessing financial benefits. And three, to encourage them to go to a shelter,” Williams said.

Companies like the Restorative Police Program, where Williams received inspiration to start Willbridge, Common Ground, churches around the community and City College students participate in the event.

“Everyone is somebody’s child and everybody needs a second chance to turn their life around,” Williams said. “Having that level of compassion in the forefront of your mind-that there’s always something you can do for someone. Just acknowledging their existence is key,” she said.