Students on the Anschutz Medical Campus aren’t waiting until graduation to apply the lessons and skills they are learning in classrooms and clinics. Second-year medical students Kelly Finnegan and Cece Johnson-Sasso have already begun leading fellow students in helping the homeless survive cold weather and hunger.
When Finnegan first started at the CU School of Medicine, she was surprised at the number of homeless community members she saw on the streets in and around Denver and Aurora. Then, she worked on a research project in the emergency room at the Denver Health Medical Center and was inspired to find a way to make a difference.
“Working on that research I saw first-hand, and for the first time, the effect of the cold on people who didn’t have shelter,” Finnegan said. “The frostbite they suffered was extremely painful and I thought that no one should have to experience that.”
Ready for those in need
Her experience gave birth to the idea of Care Kits during the winter of 2014-15. Finnegan and Johnson-Sasso gathered donated personal care items like shampoo and toothpaste along with socks, hand warmers and nutritious snack items. They also collected money to buy some other essentials. Once everything had been collected, they recruited other students to help them pack it all into individual kits, which also included bus tickets and information about shelters, clinics and meals.
To ensure that the kits would be available to any who needed them, student volunteers stashed kits in their cars and backpacks, ready to give them away whenever they saw someone who could use help. The 50 Care Kits assembled were distributed in less than four months.
Johnson-Sasso gave several kits to patients when she was working in the emergency room at the University of Colorado Hospital.
“One day I pulled one out of my backpack and gave it to a patient who’d been found unconscious in front of a coffee shop,” Johnson-Sasso said. “He was a regular in the ER and when he regained consciousness, I told him about our Care Kit project. He told me he was touched that we had taken the time to think about ‘people like him’ and said that we had made his day. Moments like that make me feel that something as simple as our kits can have a positive impact. And, that’s a good lesson for those of us studying to be future healthcare professionals.”
Johnson-Sasso and Finnegan continued their Care Kit project in 2015, with 26 students assembling more than 200 kits containing donated socks, handwarmers, washcloths and 100 pounds of health and hygiene items and snacks.
Although the two women didn’t know what to expect when they co-founded the Care Kit project, they knew there had to be a way that they and their classmates could help. They learned that things as simple as socks, hand warmers and information about clinics can make a world of difference. They also confirmed that their instincts as future health care professionals are on target.
“We are going to see homeless members of our community throughout our careers,” said Finnegan. “The sooner we can gain empathy and understanding for the situations they face, the better we will be able to serve them in the future.”
Donations to the Care Kit project and volunteers are welcome year-round.
Guest Contributor: Marcia Neville, Communications Manager, Division of Student Affairs