It started with a house fire. Bon Secours St. Francis emergency room staff discovered that their patient had lost everything she owned, and they wanted to help her — at least to provide her with clothing.
They collected so much clothing — more than one woman could use — that the next step was to find a place big enough to store it, says Stacy Alexander, a nurse case manager for the BSSF downtown hospital ER.
That’s where Ben Noblitt, who works in the hospital’s engineering department, could help. He found space in an old office building across the street from the hospital. Hospital staff and friends answered the call for clothing, toiletry items, disposable bedpads, used equipment like canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and other items. And soon the designated room was filled, and the new “clothing ministry” expanded to two more rooms.
“We have had such an overwhelming response with donations from employees and their church and family members that we now have a room specifically designated to a women’s closet,” Alexander says. “We did a coat drive and got an overwhelming response of 500 coats donated from employees, and now we have one room designated for coats.”
There is a third room for men’s clothing items.
A few coats and other clothing are kept replenished in a small supply area in the ER so clothing is readily available when a homeless patient comes in from the cold without adequate clothing. Alexander and her ER colleague Tiffany Bosket sort the donated items on their own time.
“Right now it’s very manageable,” Alexander says. “We’ve discussed maybe having some of our hospital volunteers help us get items sorted and tagged to keep them organized.”
The clothing and other items are available to anyone who needs them.
“We keep an open eye to patients’ needs, and the registration staff is wonderful about letting us know if they think a person needs help,” Alexander says.
Besides coats, toiletry items and shoes are always in high demand, she notes. “I can’t tell you how many people come in with shoes that are falling apart.”
Even patients with homes sometimes need the help.
“We’ve had people who are dealing with an illness and don’t have enough money to heat their house,” Alexander says. “They don’t have much money to have warmer clothing for this winter, so I’ve helped her and her husband find sizes of clothing to keep them warm.”
BSSF’s clothing ministry has given away about 100 items since October and is available to anyone who needs help — even to those who do not need ER help, but would like a winter coat.
To pick up a free coat or donate items, contact Stacy Alexander at [email protected].