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Mission Accepted

Billikens find new ways to serve during COVID-19.

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Coursework has shifted from classrooms to remote instruction, students have returned to hometowns, and routine appointments and milestone events are postponed.

But while the global pandemic has necessitated increased physical separation, these unprecedented circumstances have drawn many in the SLU community closer than ever to the University’s mission.

In a typical year, SLU students, faculty and staff spend more than a million hours serving others — just one of the reasons the University is consistently recognized as one of the nation’s top universities for making an impact. Although this year has proven far from typical, members of the SLU community continue to embrace the Jesuit call to be men and women for and with others, relying on the versatility, commitment and compassion that are hallmarks of what it means to be a Billiken.

For example, in early April, SLU made some unoccupied residence hall space available to SLUCare and SSM Health providers — as well as essential University employees. This gave those who had contracted COVID-19 or who were exposed to a patient an alternative to isolating at home with, potentially, at-risk family members.

“I am proud that we are able to serve those who serve our community, selflessly, every day,” Dr. Fred P. Pestello, SLU president, said. “This pandemic reminds us how critical it is to serve however we can.”

The stories on the following pages highlight just a few of the ways the SLU community recently has stepped up to help.  

Caring for the Community

Campus Kitchen Continues to Serve

— By Amelia Flood

The Campus Kitchen at Saint Louis University (CKSLU) is still open and operating, serving some of the University’s most vulnerable neighbors who do not have regular access to nutritious meals and who are even more food insecure during the public health crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The kitchen is also available for any student or SLU community member who is experiencing food insecurity. CKSLU offers a variety of fresh, frozen and shelf-stable items to share.

“We have amazing students within our organization, and they take directly to heart that we are called to be men and women for others,” Melissa Apprill (A&S ’91), Campus Kitchen coordinator, said. “At this point in time, perhaps more than any other in CKSLU’s 19-year history, we grapple with our deeper Jesuit calling … keenly mindful of our shared responsibility to keep both the vulnerable among us and our volunteers safe, while also recognizing the immediate food needs of our community partners.”

To serve those in need, the kitchen has tweaked its routines, while still following stringent food and personal safety protocols. As the SLU and St. Louis communities have implemented social distancing and sheltering-in-place to help flatten the curve, the kitchen and its volunteers have continued delivering meals to five partner sites and opened CKSLU’s food resources to clients of the St. Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry with the Homeless, another SLU-affiliated ministry. CKSLU served nearly 3,800 meals from early March through June 6.

Supplying Meals to St. Louis Families

— By Jeff Fowler

Four St. Louis organizations have partnered to help address hunger among families in St. Louis neighborhoods with the highest need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Family Dinner Program was initiated by St. Louis entrepreneurship incubator Habitat for Neighborhood Business (HNB) in conjunction with Saint Louis University after learning of the growing stresses on area families, whose financial resources have, in many cases, been impacted by furloughs, layoffs or illness. In response, approximately 200 Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS) families in need received free, nourishing meals through collaboration with the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

“After we learned about the increasing stress on these families in underserved neighborhoods, the need to act was urgent,” said HNB Board Chairman Douglas Brown (CSB ’66). “We decided to act quickly using networking by HNB staff and board members to identify partners and funding.”

The entire effort was off the ground in a matter of weeks. Saint Louis University is a founding partner of HNB. SLU officials say the program aligns with the University’s mission of supporting the community and those most in need.

“The virtue or habit of solidarity is central to our way of proceeding as a Catholic and Jesuit university, and so this collaborative outreach from HNB, the St. Louis Area Foodbank and St. Louis Public Schools expresses most eloquently that mission of Saint Louis University,” said Christopher Collins, S.J. (Grad A&S ’01), SLU’s assistant to the president for mission and identity. Donations committed are funding up to 100,000 meals.

Caring for the Caregivers

Hotline Supports Frontline Health Care Workers

— By Amelia Flood

Saint Louis University clinical psychologists are helping those fighting to save lives endangered by COVID-19 by creating a new hotline for frontline health care workers at SSM Health hospitals. The hotline allows those on the front lines of the pandemic to care for their own psychological and mental health.

The Psychological Support Hotline was established by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience in SLU’s School of Medicine and the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences in partnership with St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute to offer support to nurses, faculty and resident physicians and other health care workers at SSM Health Saint Louis University, SSM Health St. Mary’s and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospitals.

Dr. Lauren Schwarz (Grad A&S ’04, ’07), professor and clinical psychologist, explained that the free hotline is being staffed by clinical psychologists from the psychiatry and psychology departments, as well as a volunteer clinical psychologist from the wider St. Louis community. A licensed clinical social worker and nurse clinic manager also are facilitating hotline operations.

The hotline’s 12 volunteer staffers are providing referrals to St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute for those callers who would benefit from more ongoing care. Staff chats associated with the hotline consistently have been attended by 20 to 30 people, and the line is available for individual callers.

“As mental health professionals, we are acutely aware of the mental health needs that may arise in a time of crisis,” Schwarz said. “We want to be able to provide support for individuals who have been and will be acutely affected by the COVID pandemic. In order to be able to provide care for others, we must truly care for ourselves as well.

“This tele-support line exemplifies cura personalis – caring for the whole person,” Schwarz continued. “We want to aid the mind and spirit of our providers when needed. Care for oneself and supporting our colleagues is a core value.” 

Students Help the Healers

— By Nancy Solomon

Saint Louis University first-year medical students are offering emergency child care, pet care and grocery delivery for medical faculty who are needed on the front line to fight COVID-19.

“We wanted to use our time in a meaningful way to help the community,” said Rebecca Cunningham, a SLU medical student.

The medical student volunteers soon were joined by SLU students from a variety of majors to assist with the effort.

As of June 8, around 80 SLU students had signed up to help with child care, 65 for pet care and 82 for grocery delivery. In all, 28 families and individuals received some kind of assistance. Volunteers provided 557 hours of child care alone.

“Students are volunteering and not accepting any compensation,” said SLU medical school student Joseph Rojo. “Some of us are encouraging those who insist on paying us to instead make a donation to SLU’s Helping Our Own fund.”

Biosecurity Expert Prepares Nurses for COVID-19 

— By Carrie Bebermeyer

Among many in the SLU community who are putting their expertise to work to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic is director of SLU’s Institute for Biosecurity, Dr. Terri Rebmann (Grad VSN ’06), who addressed more than 50,000 nurses via a webinar in March to answer questions about the virus. In addition to her doctorate, Rebmann is a registered nurse certified in infection prevention and control, and is a fellow of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

Mobilized to quickly educate health professionals about best practices and to share evidence-based research about dealing with infectious diseases, Rebmann has been preparing for this work her entire career as a public health expert in biosecurity, emerging diseases and disaster preparedness.

During the American Nurses Association National COVID-19 webinar, Rebmann addressed nurses across the United States after receiving more than 7,100 questions in advance of the session.

“There’s a lot of worry and concern. Nurses want to know what to do when they start to run out of personal protective equipment, if there’s risk to their family members and how to plan if they don’t have enough medical staff,” Rebmann said.

Rebmann offered scientific, evidence-based knowledge to combat fears.

“This is a novel coronavirus, and we are still learning about how it spreads and the best methods to control it,” she said. “I’m sharing the most current, scientifically based advice we have about how health care personnel can protect themselves, their families and their patients during this pandemic, even as we know that CDC recommendations and guidelines are likely to be updated as we gain new information about the virus.”

Along with her advice to nurses, Rebmann shared her gratitude: “Thank you for being willing to continue providing the highest quality nursing care to patients during these unprecedented times.” 

Ministering to SLU’s Spiritual Needs

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While the Saint Louis University community looked for ways to be of service as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, SLU’s Office of Mission and Identity, the Eckelkamp Center for Campus Ministry and the Jesuit community found ways to continue to enrich the spiritual lives of those connected to the University.

Primarily, this meant being creative with ministry while in-person services weren’t available. Many options for prayer and reflection moved online and were shared through social media, including daily Ignatian Examens, rosaries and Masses livestreamed from familiar locations across campus.

The Office of Mission and Identity even created a digital prayer wall. The website allows the community to offer prayer intentions for loved ones, joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties during the pandemic. The first intention was for SLU’s medical practice, SLUCare: “Thank you for your selflessness and generosity, and may you remain safe and healthy. Prayers, too, for your loved ones.”

Dozens of Billikens connected online to keep SLU’s beloved “Java with the Jesuits” coffee and conversation series going during social distancing. While they weren’t able to gather around the clock tower as usual, more than 25 people joined SLU’s Jesuits and Jesuit scholastics on Zoom and about 15 on Instagram for the first virtual Java coffee klatch. The online gatherings continued throughout the semester.

“There are plenty of Zoom meetings for all sorts of events, but we wanted to make a meeting for people to just hang out, even when you don’t know the other people,” Daniel Mascarenhas, S.J., a Jesuit scholastic and organizer of Java with the Jesuits, said. “That’s what Java is about on campus — to bring people from different groups together, and as a space for students to encounter Jesuits outside of religious settings. If there is a need, we will serve it.”

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of now more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.