Catholic Multicultural Center and St. Mary's partnership Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Laura Green, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Nov. 08, 2012 -- 12:00 AM
Volunteers from St. Mary’s Hospital are ready to serve a meal at the Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC) in Madison. Twenty-three times each year, St. Mary’s employees prepare the meal, get the food ready at the CMC, and serve it to about 100 guests. It is one of many connections between the hospital and the CMC. (Contributed photo)

MADISON -- St. Mary’s Hospital recently celebrated “100 years of Care…and counting.” Through a partnership with the hospital that spans some 20 years, the Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC) has seen what a big difference a little caring can make.

Every day the CMC serves a free meal to the community. Over the course of this year, St. Mary’s volunteers were scheduled to prepare and serve the meal 23 days.

The employees at St. Mary’s handle the whole meal: they collect food, prepare the meal, assemble the food at the CMC, and serve it to approximately 100 guests.

Eager volunteers

Over a year, St. Mary’s volunteers provided almost a month’s worth of meals to the CMC, yet this still hasn’t satisfied their desire to help out. Rosemary Buchholz coordinates her fellow volunteers at St. Mary’s, a task she says couldn’t be easier.

“There is a very high interest in volunteering. We already have people calling for 2013,” she said.

Once a year Buchholz gets a list of meal program volunteer dates from the CMC. She then sends an e-mail to all departments with information about the meal program and available volunteer dates. Any interested department simply contacts Buchholz to sign up.

Steve Maurice, assistant director at the CMC, explained that St. Mary’s just served the meal once a month when he took over the meal program in 1998. As interest grew, he kept adding more and more days for St. Mary’s to oversee the meal. Each date, a different department signs up, so each department typically volunteers only once a year.

With a different department coming each time, an impressive number of employees volunteer through the meal program each year. Buchholz estimates St. Mary’s sends around 150 volunteers each year to serve the meal.

According to Maurice, “The St. Mary’s volunteers are very motivated and they enjoy volunteering.” He added that there are even more St. Mary’s meal volunteers not included in the volunteer count who help out, such as by purchasing or preparing food, even though they cannot make it to the center on their day to cook and serve.

Employees from all aspects of the hospital come to assist with the meal, including Dr. Frank Byrne, CEO of St. Mary's Hospital, who typically washes dishes at the meal once a month with the Notre Dame Club.

One St. Mary’s employee can be found helping with the meal nearly every day, at least when she’s not busy offering medical advice or chatting about when to get the influenza vaccine.

Parish nurse involved at CMC

Parish Nurse Betsy Knight is able to provide free medical consultation to CMC guests through the St. Mary’s parish nurse program. Knight works 10 hours a week at the CMC (at the same time as the meal program), with St. Mary’s covering 25 percent of her salary. “[The parish nurse program] is important because it gives everyone a chance to obtain medical information,” said Knight.

Knight performs basic medical services such as blood pressure checks and free flu vaccinations. Any CMC guest with a health concern can talk about it with Knight, who will listen with a sympathetic ear and do everything she can to assist him or her.

If she cannot directly treat a patient, Knight will access medical resources for a guest or even assist with making medical appointments — and help get people to those appointments. Knight’s services are a much-needed asset to the CMC guests who choose to use them, especially for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Knight credits St. Mary’s with allowing her to be the best she can be in her role as nurse. Thanks to the hospital, she has access to basic supplies such as bandages, wraps for sprained joints, flu shots, and over-the counter medications for things like pain and allergies.

If Knight needs to answer a question outside of her area of expertise, a simple phone call to the St. Mary’s librarian or pharmacist can get her the information she needs, something she said she wouldn’t be able to do if she were not a St. Mary’s employee.

Motivated creation of program

Sr. Mary Ellen Lewis, former St. Mary’s director of pastoral care, sent a nurse to the CMC for the first time in 1997, after initiating the St. Mary’s parish nurse program about a year earlier. While Sister Mary Ellen was instrumental in making sure the CMC has a parish nurse, the CMC was behind her motives in creating the parish nurse program.

By the time she returned to St. Mary’s in 1994 (after leaving her previous post in 1975), the partnership with the CMC meal program had already been established. Sister Mary Ellen was not directly involved with coordinating St. Mary’s involvement with the CMC, but she would come to help serve the meal. One day at the meal program impacted her work at St. Mary’s, and the CMC, for years to come.

A CMC meal guest had heard that St. Mary’s Hospital was going to serve the meal. Feeling like she had nowhere else to turn, the guest came to that meal to get medical advice. She worried about a severe rash she’d been suffering from, so she approached a St. Mary’s volunteer, a volunteer who worked in accounting. The volunteer then came to Sister Mary Ellen and asked her to talk to the woman knowing that the Sister, with her nursing background, could assist the woman.

Sister Mary Ellen had already been thinking about implementing a parish nurse program in Madison. Experiences like this at the CMC meal, she said, were the catalyst she needed to make the program a reality. The CMC was one of the first locations she sent a parish nurse.

Coming full circle

The CMC-St. Mary’s partnership pre-dates the parish nurse program by several years. At the roots of this history is found a St. Mary’s employee who has come full circle in her experiences with the CMC: Betsy Knight, the current parish nurse.

Knight, who was an emergency room nurse at St. Mary’s, had been volunteering with a group of fellow ER nurses to serve a meal at a community organization in the early 1990s. Knight decided she wanted a change from the way things were run at this meal, though she was still very passionate about helping her friends in need. The answer to this dilemma was not far away.

Margaret Straub, the original director of the CMC, was a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital. Knight and her ER friends heard about the meal program from Straub. When Straub explained how much help was needed, the group started coming once a month to the CMC to provide and serve the meal, in the same tradition that continues today.

Hospital helps in other ways

St. Mary’s seizes the opportunity to assist the CMC in other ways when possible:

  • An extra sheet cake from a hospital celebration makes its way to the dessert table at the meal.
  • Health education events are hosted and coordinated with the help of St. Mary’s staff.
  • Employees host a sock drive for homeless guests through their parish.

If there’s a new way to show they care, the people of St. Mary’s will gladly assist. Sister Mary Ellen said the partnership “has been a wonderful opportunity to be in ministry beyond health care.”

The CMC and St. Mary’s are going strong, at 20 years and counting.

Laura Green is the volunteer coordinator for the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison.


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