By Rigoberto Flores
LANSING, MI — Geronimo Lerma III said that the inspiration behind Footprints of Michigan came together like a puzzle. Even though he did not have all of the pieces at one time, Lerma believes there is always room to grow. The idea first came to him when he saw a young man in need of footwear in Lansing at a street walk event for the homeless that he was volunteering at. The soles of his shoes were duct-taped, worn, and tattered.
While serving the young man another street walk participant saw his need. She contacted her husband and he drove to the event with a gently used pair of Nike shoes.
Lerma said, “I will always remember that smile he had when receiving those shoes. His face lit up with genuine appreciation as he threw his old worn shoes in the trash.”
Lerma spent the next couple of weeks thinking about how one simple act of kindness made the young man so happy and inspired him. The idea was constantly on his mind and made Lerma think about his father, Geronimo Lerma Sr. who passed away as a double amputee in 2009.
Lerma recalled, “My father always told me “Mijo (son) take care of your feet, it will make your journey easier in life.’ ”
Lerma recalled that his father did not let his disability stop him and faith was important to the family. Shortly after his father passed away Lerma's mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. Lerma said that he would visit his mother and help her complete various chores around the house. In 2014, he was washing dishes and noticed the window kitchen curtains had the “Footprints in the Sand” poem printed on them.
Lerma said the line, “The years you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you”- moved him enough to name his mission Footprints of Michigan. He went to his friend and local graphic designer, Brandyn Armstrong of Bunique Designs and within a couple of hours, the official logo for the organization was created.
Since being founded locally, Lerma has seen a steady stream of need for footwear, they travel the state and go where they feel there is a need.
Lerma said, “I personally think footwear is one of the last things someone who is struggling financially will go out and purchase but it should be the first since improper footwear can cause back pain and can throw the whole body off alignment.”
There is more work that needs to be done stated Lerma. He wants local officials to get more involved with eradicating homeless situations occurring and not by sitting at the desk or using events for photo opportunities for political gain.
Lerma said, “I mean get boots on the ground. Go out with a street outreach team and get to know those who may not have a job or a home. Politicians need to hear their stories and see how everyone’s story is different. They are human just like us, cut from the same cloth, and made with the same flesh. Take the time to understand then you will better understand how your position as a city official can help not only our city but the individual as well.”
A long-term goal for Footprints of Michigan is to have their own facility where they can house everything including their mobile unit affectionately named “the Sole Train.” Lerma said that the facility will need to be between 7,500 to 10,000 square feet. He would also like to hire the homeless to help process calls and receive donations.
Their upcoming events include a Rib Fundraiser Curbside on January 30 at the VFW Post 6132 and Our Heart n Sole Valentine Luncheon for those in need on February 13th.
The pandemic has impacted Footprints of Michigan tremendously with 90% of their fundraisers canceled last year. They struggled for a little bit but weathered the storm despite the need was greater than ever for footwear and other services. They also provided firewood, food, and other items for the homeless to survive the weather elements.
In the past three years, they have distributed thousands of assorted footwear to not only the homeless, but also adults and children in need for casual footwear, job interviews, work-related steel-toed shoes, and special events. COVID-19 has restricted how many volunteers can clean and sort the footwear.
Lerma said, "We will be implementing a new system where volunteers can choose time slots, so we stay compliant with all CDC guidelines but at the same time process the footwear that comes in. Giving comes in all forms, financially we need to survive and keep our mission going to cover the overhead. We understand times are tough across the country so those who cannot afford to give they can share our information on social media so that others will know more about us. We are looking forward to making bigger footprints in the near future."
You can find them at https://www.facebook.com/footprintsofmichigan. The website is
http://footprintsofmichigan.org/ and the phone number is (877) 811-7463.