Access to Wellness Resources and Healthy Food Started with a Nurse from the Neighborhood

June 18, 2020

By Karen Stokes

Julia Means, community health ministry nurse

Julia Means, community a nurse with Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital is known throughout her neighborhood as ‘The Nurse.’ As an intensive care nurse, she’s witnessed a lot of people coming to intensive care who were dying due to a lack of knowledge.

“I felt if I could come out and do more teaching, guidance and support and teach them how to navigate the healthcare system, I could help them before they got into intensive care,” Means said.

She tells the story of an individual from her neighborhood who told her of a woman who was confined to her bed and asked Means to check on her.

When she went over to the house, the lady’s son was in tears saying “I can’t do this.” Means talked to the women who eventually allowed her to call the paramedics.

“I thought she was gone,” Means said. “I went to the hospital to visit her and I saw her walking around. I wanted to cry.”

What happened Means found out was that the reason the woman couldn’t get out of bed was that she stopped taking her thyroid pills.

The woman is fine now, all it took was a neighbor who knew there was a nurse in the neighborhood that they could call on to get help.

After seeing how so many people struggle, in 1996, Means started a food pantry at Ebenezer Church of God in Christ, 3132 N. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr.

Ebenezer Church of God in Christ Food Pantry

Food insecurity impacts a person’s good health. According to Feeding America, hunger and health are deeply connected. People who are food insecure are disproportionately affected by diet-sensitive chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Ascension Columbia St Mary’s Diabetic Friendly Food Pantry, is available on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. With the Covid-19 pandemic, in lieu of clients walking through the pantry, the food is boxed up ready for pick-up.

“We carry a lot of fresh produce and grains. We provide foods that are nourishing, we don’t provide junk food. No cookies, cakes or pies. Everything we provide has some nutrition to it,” said Brenda Buchanan, a registered nurse at Ascension Columbia St Mary’s. “The goal is to provide nutrition, not just food.”

People diagnosed with diabetes come in and get just-in-time learning on how to read labels and get educated on food choices to help them maintain their blood sugar. The food is provided by the Hunger Task Force and Feeding America.

Although pick up days for clients are on Wednesday and Thursday, Delivery day is Tuesday when volunteers sort from bins of fresh apples, potatoes, onions, oranges, boxes of cereal, bread, peanut butter and more foods to be boxed and distributed to clients on the following day.

Due to the pandemic, in addition to food, the pantry offers gloves, masks and cleaning products to surrounding agencies.

Ebenezer Church of God in Christ Food Pantry

“Ascension was very instrumental in providing cleaning supplies for our residents,” said Mabel Lamb, executive director of the Sherman Park Community Association. “We have two senior living facilities in Sherman Park. A lot of people come in and out, families and they need masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies so Ascension was very instrumental in helping us secure some of these products.”

“Most volunteers are seniors or nurses,” Means said. “We had to ask our senior volunteers not to come out to not put them at risk due to the pandemic.”

Bill Scanlon has been a volunteer for four years. “I wanted to do something for the community,” Scanlon explained. “We serve a lot of people who are vulnerable because of their medical condition or their age and we provide them with a service that’s great for them. The feeling from the clients is gratitude.”

“Ebenezer food pantry started in 1996 and it’s an extension of Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s hospital,” said Means. “I started the program as a parish nurse. This is the ministry that I birthed.”

To get connected with Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Diabetic Friendly Food Pantry, the public can call 2-1-1 or be referred by a doctor at Ascension.

Household cleaning supplies as well as toothbrushes and toothpaste were identified as significant community need during this challenging time. Ascension Wisconsin has agreed to support the community with a significant donation of household cleaning supplies and dental hygiene kits. An allocation of supplies will be given to several community organizations and neighborhood associations for distribution.

The following items were provided:
• Bleach
• Hand Soap
• Pine Sol
• Toilet Paper
• Hand Sanitizer
• Dental Hygiene Kits (toothbrush and toothpaste)
• Gloves (multiple sizes)

Below is a list of community organizations prepared to receive the donation and distribute:
• Sherman Park Community Association
• Walnut Way
• Ayuda Mutua MKE (Mutual Help) w/ St. Patrick’s Church
• Westcare Wisconsin, Inc
• Dominican Center
• United Community Center
• Trinity CMEC Urban Church Wellness Church Partner
• Lamb of God MBC Urban Church Wellness Church Partner
• St. Matthew CMEC Urban Church Wellness Church Partner
• Bradford Memorial AMEC Urban Church Wellness Church Partner
• Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church Urban Church Wellness Church Partner
• St. John Paul II Church Food Pantry
• Alpha & Omega
• Casa de Oracion