One day last July, during a particularly rainy week, Ashton Gores ’18 M.P.H. was working at the Neighborhood Health Project, providing hypertension and diabetes screening for New Haven residents alongside other Yale students. A man walked into the clinic with obvious injuries — including cuts and a bruised ribcage. He explained that he had spent the night sleeping in a bus station when he’d been attacked. He refused the volunteers’ offers to call an ambulance, insisting that he would walk to the hospital instead. Then the man asked if they might give him something for his feet.
“He took off his socks and shoes – he had probably not taken them off for months,” Gores said. “His feet were irritated and infected, his socks and shoes were soaked, his shoes were too big.” Later, Gores cried in her car. “I was so heartbroken for that man,” she says.
That encounter led Gores to launch an organization — the New Haven PAWS Project (Poverty Alleviation through Washing Soles) — that provides monthly foot washing events at St. Paul & St. James Episcopal Church paired with giveaways of new socks, shoes from the nonprofit Soles for Souls, and other foot-related hygiene items, like gel insoles and nail clippers. In their first event in November 2017, Gores and other Yale student volunteers washed the feet of some 100 community members and gave away 200 pairs of socks and shoes. They’ll mark their one-year anniversary at their upcoming November 9 event, and expect 200 community members to attend. Gores recently received a Yale Jefferson Award for her dedication to social justice causes.