Sometimes, customers will go to great lengths for great service. But maybe none so far as Glenn Koster.
Since Feb. 1, the Hutchinson man has walked more than 2,000 miles and made a stop Saturday in Hays to purchase shoes at Brown’s Shoe Fit, 2510 Vine, Hays.
Koster is walking cross country from Miami to Seattle to help bring attention to the need for foster and adoptive parents.
He purchased a couple pairs of New Balance walking shoes to help him through the trip, a brand he was first introduced to at the Hays store in 2014.
That year, he challenged himself to walk the 187 miles across Kansas.
“Three days into my walk from Oklahoma to Nebraska, my feet were bleeding and blistered so bad,” he said.
The biggest thing the store personnel did was measure his feet, Glenn’s wife, Charlcie, said.
“When you walk this much, your feet flatten out and spread out. I had gone from a 10.5 D to a 12.5 EE,” Koster said.
He also was wearing “the top of a line” walking shoes from a big-box department store.
“I got to Hays and I walked in (Brown’s) and they put me in my first pair of New Balance. My feet were healed by the time I hit Nebraska,” he said.
“I haven’t looked back since.”
Koster spent the rest of the weekend in Hays — he doesn’t walk on Sundays — and set out Monday morning from the parking lot of Walmart, 4301 Vine, where he and Charlcie parked their RV for the night. He planned to reach Plainville by Monday afternoon.
Throughout his walk he takes opportunities to talk to media, local organizations and individuals about the need for families to foster and adopt children. Those are causes he knows well.
When Koster was 6, growing up in Michigan, he and two half-brothers were abandoned by his family. His father was a disabled Korean war veteran and his mother had lost her job. In search of work, his parents took the younger children of the family and eventually left the state.
An aunt was supposed to pick up the boys and watch after them, but she never showed up. The boys were on their own for nearly eight weeks before someone reported them to officials.
His two older brothers went to the home of their father. Koster was put in the custody of the aunt who had never showed. Despite 11 aunts and uncles living in close proximity, Koster had nowhere to go.
“Nobody came for me,” he said.
He was adopted by a couple who was told they could not have children, but several months later, his adoptive mother became pregnant with twins. It was a difficult pregrancy.
Koster was by then, “a discipline problem,” he said, and in addition was being sexually abused by a babysitter. Koster went back into the system.
In his next foster home, the family went Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving. Arriving home late, Koster said goodnight to his foster father, who lay down on the sofa.
“That was the last I saw of him. He died of a heart attack in the middle of the night,” Koster said.
Officials did not find a new placement for him until the day after Christmas. This time he went to the home of a farm family who had raised a dozen of their own children and then started taking in foster children. He was their 13th foster child.
“They treated all us foster kids the same. We did chores, we went to school, went to church,” he said.
Koster went to catechism and was a challenge for his teacher, he said.
“If he said ‘black,’ I said ‘white,’ if he said ‘sit,’ I stood,” Koster said.
After several months, however, that teacher and his wife adopted him.
“That’s how I became a Koster,” he said.
Koster cannot become a foster or adoptive parent himself, however.
“As I became an adult, I followed what I call the sins of my father. My birth father was very abusive — sexually, physically, emotionally — to us kids,” he said.
“I became an alcoholic and I became a spousal abuser,” he said.
“I have been alcohol free since March 13 of 1989, and violence-free since May 27 of ’89,” he said.
That year was a pivotal one for him, Koster said.
“I didn’t like who I was, I didn’t like what I had become. I said, ‘Something has to change.’ So I started trying to find my roots,” he said.
Koster has since found and met with several of his family members, including his half brothers he was abandoned with and his birth mother.
Koster tells those who, for whatever reason, cannot be foster parents or adopt, there are still ways they can help. Respite foster parents can take foster children for a weekend, for example, if the foster family needs time to themselves. Emergency foster homes take in children on short notice.
“In Kansas, we have one of the worst records. On Easter weekend, there were 111 kids that spent one or more nights in a social worker’s office because they couldn’t find a place to put them,” he said.
“Emergency care workers would solve that.”
People can also be mentors to foster children, or give to organizations that provide supplies for children put into the system.
“Eighty percent of the kids who enter the foster care system enter with nothing but the clothes on their back,” Koster said.
Together We Rise is an organization that Koster supports. It provides backpacks for the children filled with stuffed animals, games and basic hygiene items.
Koster tells youth groups they can make a difference in a foster child’s life as well.
“Foster kids are among the most bullied out there,” Koster said.
He tells young people to be a friend instead.
“You may see them only a week or a month or maybe three months, but you can make a difference that will change that child’s life,” he said.
Follow Koster’s progress on his Facebook page, Charity Steps.