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Brock University nursing students warm hearts with Emergency Department donation

Posted Feb 12th, 2024

Brock University’s Canadian Nursing Students Association, led by President Julia McNeaney, collected more than 100 winter clothing items in support of Start Me Up Niagara’s Mobile Closet.

A group of Brock University nursing students is celebrating a successful initiative which brought vital winter gear to those in need in the Emergency Department (ED).

Brock University’s Canadian Nursing Students Association, led by President Julia McNeaney, spearheaded the inspiring campaign, collecting more than 100 winter clothing items in support of Start Me Up Niagara’s Mobile Closet.

The chilly winter months pose additional challenges for some having medical emergencies. Many arrive at the ED unprepared for the bitter cold, leaving them vulnerable and in need.

Recognizing this critical need, McNeaney and her team took it upon themselves to gather donations to support Niagara’s Mobile Closet, which operates mini closets inside the St. Catharines and Niagara Falls EDs.

“There are many patients who come into our care that lack supports to ensure they are dressed to protect themselves from the physical environment,” says McNeaney, who is currently completing her clinical externship in the St. Catharines ED. “It is difficult to witness and the last thing we want to feel is helpless – this is where Start Me Up Niagara’s Mobile Closet comes into play.”

Start Me Up Niagara is a non-profit organization that provides a number of services and programs to individuals facing significant life challenges.

One of their programs, Niagara’s Mobile Closet, provides direct access to clothing for those experiencing a clothing crisis. The program runs free shopping events for individuals in the community and operates mini closets, which provide 24/7 access to new and gently used seasonal clothing.

Currently, Niagara’s Mobile Closet operates 18 mini closets throughout the Niagara Region, including locations at the St. Catharines and Niagara Falls EDs and New Port Centre in Port Colborne with an additional location at the Welland Hospital opening later this year.

Mini closets are restocked once a month with seasonally appropriate clothing items. The closets are run by volunteers and rely on the generosity of community members for donations.

“We were thrilled to have a group of students who were on board to lend a helping hand,” says Lynn McIntyre, Niagara’s Mobile Closet Coordinator. “This donation will go a long way in helping our unsheltered population through the cold, harsh winter months.”

McNeaney considers herself lucky to have completed several clinical externships at Niagara Health as part of her education with Brock University’s Nursing Program. Her placements, especially in the ED, showed her firsthand the struggles faced by patients and their healthcare providers, as well as an understanding of the needs within the healthcare system.

“Appropriate clothing is a basic need and without Niagara’s Mobile Closet, it would be difficult to assist patients that are lacking this necessity,” she says.

The impact of the mini closets has had a profound impact on our team.

Cherie Bernard, Environmental Service Aid in the St. Catharines ED recalls this past Christmas Eve, for example.

After striking up a conversation with a young patient, she learned that her mother did not have a winter coat.

With the help of the mini closet, Bernard was able to retrieve a warm coat, ensuring the caregiver could find respite from the cold.

“The mini closet provided me with a way to give back,” she says. “Not just to our patients, but caregivers in need as well.”

McNeaney and the Brock University CNSA assembled a total of 45 individual bags, each including a hat or scarf, pair of gloves or mittens and a warm, thick pair of socks.

“The mini closet empowers team members to provide all-inclusive care to the patients we see,” she says. “To continue to offer this resource, the organization needs donations.”

With winter gear in high demand, Niagara’s Mobile Closet is asking anyone who is interested in donating to refer to their needs list located on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

“The items we ask for are seasonal and generally high needs items,” says McIntyre, “Right now we are looking for men’s and women’s winter boots and men’s weatherproof (not spring) jackets. Sweat pants are another big need item.”

Niagara Health System