It was freezing outside on the Monday before Thanksgiving, but inside St. Patrick’s Center in Wilmington, the dining room was filled with warmth, goodwill and the mouthwatering fragrance of a turkey dinner.
Christiana Care social workers, volunteers and staff of Medical Home Without Walls pitched in to cook and serve a Thanksgiving meal for more than 50 homeless clients of St. Patrick’s Center on Market Street. Nurses were on hand to provide flu shots to six diners and blood pressure checks to 21.
“This meal is from our hearts to your stomachs, and we hope you enjoy it,’’ said Carvella Jackson, a Christiana Care employment recruiter. She and a group of volunteers, including Christiana Care social workers, have been preparing box lunches for homeless St. Patrick’s clients twice a month since August.
That informal relationship has been formalized and broadened in the form of a contract between St. Patrick’s Center and Christiana Care’s Department of Social Work. The contract, being managed by Medical Home Without Walls, came about when St. Patrick’s Center received a grant from the state of Delaware to provide an on-site social worker. Executive Director Joseph P. Hickey turned to Christiana Care. “Christiana Care had a community outreach program, and that’s how I got to know them,’’ Hickey said. “So when we were looking for a social worker, we looked to them.’’
Recent changes in services available to homeless people in Wilmington, including the closing of another nonprofit’s emergency shelter and day program last spring, have created urgent needs, says Linda Brittingham, LCSW, BCD, corporate director of social work at Christiana Care. As a result, St. Patrick’s Center has seen an influx of new clients needing a multitude of services, including the help of social workers, she says.
Traditionally a senior center, St. Patrick’s Center provides lunch for elderly clients. Except for the donated box lunches twice a month, they have not had the resources to offer meals to the homeless. But the center provides a safe, warm place for people who have nowhere else to go during the day. It also offers a clothing bank, emergency food and fresh produce at minimal or no cost.
“It tastes as good as it smells,’’ said Tijuan Torres Jr., 53, as he finished his meal and was enjoying music by guitarist Rich Lombino, Esq., LCSW, CCDP-D, a senior social worker in Medical Home Without Walls. “We’re very grateful for their time, energy and support.” Torres, who has an associate’s degree in business administration and spends most of his time at St. Patrick’s, says the problems of homelessness go beyond food and shelter. “I’ve been desperately seeking employment, but my wardrobe does not accommodate that. I don’t have adequate clothing, and if I did, I don’t have any place to keep it,” he said.
The partnership between St. Patrick’s and Christiana Care will help homeless clients connect with needed medical and psychosocial services, says Ronit Litwack, MBA, MHA, project manager of Medical Home Without Walls. “Many homeless people become hospital ‘super users’,’’ she said. This group makes up about 1 percent of patients but accounts for over 20 percent of hospital visits. Medical Home Without Walls is focused on helping those who may not know where to turn to find the services they need outside the emergency room.
“It makes sense for us to partner with St. Patrick’s and connect people with the needed resources within the community,’’’ she said. “By working as respectful, expert, caring partners, we can help improve the overall health of our most vulnerable neighbors.’’