The Care Closet aims to provide essentials to patients and their families

Jan 19, 2020, 19:34 PM by Erin Graham

image of ribbon cutting ceremony for UTMB's Care Closet
THE UTMB CARE CLOSET, a basic living-needs pantry and laundry resource for patients and their families, recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Galveston Chamber of Commerce.

The Care Closet is the brainchild of Savannah Parks and Rebecca Castro, who cut the ribbon at the ceremony to mark the official opening of the resource. Located in the first-floor corridor connecting John Sealy Hospital to UTMB Health Clinics on the Galveston Campus, the Care Closet was initially funded by the UTMB President’s Cabinet and is the first resource of its kind
located on-site in a hospital in the Houston-Galveston region.

Thanks to the project, patients and family members who are
staying unexpectedly at UTMB or those who have limited financial
means will have access to food, clothes and other items
in the closet, as well as have the ability to wash their laundry.
Designated staff has access to the Care Closet to assist those
in need.

The idea for the Care Closet has been brewing for quite some time. Castro, a licensed clinical social worker and social work supervisor in Care Management, worked in the Emergency Room when she first came to UTMB and saw many of the traumas that came through there.

Some patients had to have their clothes cut off or their clothes were damaged by blood or other substances. She realized, she said, that sometimes she just needed to meet Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

“Let me take care of clothing, food and shelter first, and then I can help them from there,” Castro said.

The incident that sticks out to Castro was the time a family from Louisiana visited Galveston’s beaches. The children began to struggle in the tide, and the father jumped in to save them. The kids survived, but the father drowned. When the family came into the ER, they were cold and wet. A lifeguard Castro knew called ahead to let her know the family was coming in,
so she was able to gather up changes of clothes for them from things she’d been stashing in her office.

“A few weeks later, the mother sent me one of the T-shirts back with a handwritten note that essentially said, ‘We didn’t know what we needed, but you knew how to take care of us. You kept us warm and dry so that we could move on.’ I have had that with me for a long time.”

Castro included that story in her grant proposal for the Care Closet to the President’s Cabinet.

“It sounds trite, but I can’t emphasize enough that we could not have done this project without the President’s Cabinet.”

The Care Closet accepts donations for nonperishable food, such as pop-up soups and stews, tuna fish and chicken packets, and tea bags; personal hygiene products, including deodorant, razors and shaving cream, and baby and children’s products; and basic articles of clothing, especially men’s clothing, including new socks and underwear. Clothing items can be gently used, just brought in clean and in good condition. Gift cards also
are accepted.

Donations of pod-type laundry detergents also are being sought for the on-site washing machine.

Since the ribbon cutting, the Care Closet has assisted 17 families and 22 patients. Sixteen families have used the laundry area, and staff members have washed laundry for four patients who didn’t have friends or family members who could help them, said Parks.

Parks, a licensed social worker and Patient Resource Specialist in the UTMB Health Resource Center, reported that quite a few staff members now have access to the Care Closet and all the resources and amenities are being heavily utilized. In addition, the Care Closet is overflowing with donations from the UTMB and Galveston communities.

The items in the pantry all seemed to be being used equally, Parks said, but the food depletes most quickly and is what will be the biggest need. New socks and underwear for men, women and children are in demand, as well as comfortable shirts and pants for men.

Response from the community has been genenerous, said Parks. Several people have dropped off food and used clothing. Today’s Dental in Galveston donated several boxes of toothbrushes and toothpaste that will provide for the oral hygiene needs of the Care Closet for quite some time.

“The biggest response we’ve received is from the UTMB community. We’ve been blown away by the generosity and kindness by the UTMB family to support the patients and families that we all serve.

“Several clinics and departments have chosen to collect donations for the Care Closet as their holiday project so we’ve been very fortunate to have an influx of donations these last few weeks,” Parks said.

For more information, contact Savannah Parks at sjparks@utmb.edu or (409) 266-7542.