By NANCY FRAZIER O'BRIEN
One woman is downsizing and has a houseful of furniture to give away. A family that lives nearby is just starting out and needs what she has to offer. They might never meet, but for Sr. Clara Frances Kusek, CR, and eCARES, a program of Presence Health in the Chicago area.
Sr. Gloria Fox, CR a volunteer with Presence Health's eCARES program, catalogs artwork donated to the program.
Sr. Kusek, who retired in 2011 as vice president of mission for what was then Resurrection Health Care, started eCARES in 2007 when she realized that "people relate to mission in many ways, but one way is in giving things to people."
The eCARES program was "a way to get people involved in doing exactly that," she said.
The eCARES program is a virtual swap meet of sorts that operates primarily through the intranet, email and Presence Health's internal delivery system. Presence Health, created in November 2011 through the merger of Provena Health and Resurrection Health Care, is the largest Catholic health system based in Illinois and many of its facilities are in the Chicago area.
The program receives donations, which it lists as "available," and requests for donations, which it terms "needs." Each item and need receives a number, in order to keep confidential who is donating the item or who needs it.
Each item or need is posted just once on the company intranet. Anyone with any sort of connection with Presence Health — employee, patient, relative or friend of an employee, needy person served by the system or members of the community in which Presence operates — can participate in the eCARES program as a donor or recipient.
System employees can scan the intranet list for items needed by themselves, a patient, family member or friend. When there are multiple requests for one item, the requests are sent to the donor, usually in one batch, so that the donor can choose the recipient.
Since its start, eCARES has grown to the point that last year 322 people donated more than 10,000 items, which were distributed to those who need them. The donations range from baby gear and clothing to medical equipment, furniture, religious items and even live animals.
Animals and large goods, such as furniture, stay at the donor's home; the chosen recipient arranges to make the pickup. Smaller items are received and processed at the system's volunteer office, located at Presence Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago. Once a match is made for an item, Presence staff members make the delivery within one day using the hospital system's regular interoffice delivery system, which currently covers about 80 percent of the health system's Chicago area locations.
No money changes hands for any of the items, with the sole exception of the recently added category of apartments or shared living arrangements.
"Apartments were not originally included because of the money transfer that is involved," Sr. Kusek said in her annual report about the program. "But it is so helpful for someone to be able to get an apartment near their work that recently we have been placing the ads with some very good results."
Baby ware including cribs, car seats, diapers, swings, travel beds, carriers, high chairs, bouncers and strollers "are frequent items that are usually received if requested or placed if offered," Sr. Kusek said in her report.
Asked what donations had most surprised her, Sr. Kusek said it was "the dogs and cats, and today I even got a guinea pig." Each time a pet is available, "I get 10 or 12 responses to each one," she said, adding that she recently received a photo of a dog on the way to his new home.
Medical equipment or supplies that cannot be placed are donated to the missions, through Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach, an Illinois-based organization that has distributed more than $35 million in usable medical supplies to 75 countries worldwide since it was founded in 2002 by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis.
Sr. Kusek hears from many appreciative donors and recipients, with comments like these:
— "I am expecting someone any time now to pick up the rollator walker. I just know my mom is looking down from heaven and is so pleased to know that the items that made her life so much better are being used by others."
— The carpet "was in perfect shape. A special thanks to all!! ... My boys, and my feet, are very happy and grateful."
— "I want to thank you for the wheelchair and the vase. My mother was so happy and for that I am forever grateful! The vase looks beautiful in her room and now she will be able to go to church with us. Thank you again for everything."
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