By Emily Younker and Scott Meeker
While it didn’t yet have a formal name, the seeds of Freeman Health System’s Community Outreach Team were planted in the hours following the tornado.
More than 480 of the hospital’s employees were directly affected by the storm. And with St. John’s Regional Medical Center severely damaged, Freeman was seeing an onslaught of wounded residents with nowhere else to go. Within hours, plans began to take shape.
“We set up a distribution center for our employees and patients,” said Shawn McGrew, director of service excellence. “There were tens of thousands of pounds of food and clothing. We started to look at what we could do for ourselves but also to help the community.”
The hospital already had several employee-driven teams that worked on initiatives at the hospital and in the community, and Occumed Director Mary Lonon said there was an opportunity to create another after the tornado.
“I wanted to help in some way and had talked to other employees who were also interested,” Lonon said. “I mentioned to Shawn that it would be good if we could get a group of employees together to volunteer their time ... I volunteered myself into chairing it.
“I thought the team would help support our employees and the community to get through the tornado and devastation, but it has expanded far beyond that.”
The Community Outreach Team went from helping to clear brush and debris to working with other organizations. Employees at Freeman have put together a community “trunk-or-treat” party, worked with Children’s Haven, coordinated concessions at football games and worked at build sites through Habitat for Humanity and Rebuild Joplin.
“We’ve developed relationships with other community partners,” Lonon said of the team, which has also worked with Lafayette House and the Joplin Humane Society.
The team meets about once a month to discuss volunteer opportunities and then notifies the hospital’s employees of areas where their time and talents are needed.
“It’s an opportunity to do the things you’ve already had a desire and willingness to do,” said Sean Eck, a team member who works in IT security and has helped coordinate efforts with the Habitat program. “You may not know how to run a chain saw, but you can deliver food to somebody or pick something up. If you want to help, there are opportunities.”
In just the past year, nearly 600 employees have volunteered in different capacities through the Community Outreach Team.