St. Nick’s Closet a collaboration between Catholic Charities and OSF in Danville

Father Deusdedit Byomuhangi, manager of pastoral care at OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville, holds one of the bags ready for distribution to a needy family through the St. Nick's Closet program, a collaboration between Catholic Charities and OSF HealthCare. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

DANVILLE — While the OSF Care-a-Van makes medical care mobile (see related story), a new collaboration between Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria and OSF HealthCare is bringing a mobile ministry indoors.

More than two years after Catholic Charities launched the St. Nicholas Charity on Wheels program — in which a van delivers supplies to needy individuals and families at distribution sites across the diocese — OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville has established the first “St. Nick’s Closet.”

The “closet” is actually a six-level bookshelf in a room outside the emergency department. The shelves hold bags of hygiene supplies and spiritual resources ready to be shared with patients whose needs are made known to case management.

Sister Michelle Fernandez, SCTJM, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Peoria, and Angelica Toliver, direct care manager, are pictured at St. Nick’s Closet at OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville. (Provided photo)

“We see many patients come through our doors at the hospital who could benefit from this ministry,” said Chris Ostertag, director of mission services for the eastern region of OSF HealthCare. In conversations with Catholic Charities leaders about the expanding Charity on Wheels program, Ostertag noted that some needing its assistance may not be able to meet the van at the monthly distribution sites.

His proposal for a permanent “St. Nick’s Closet” at OSF Sacred Heart was embraced by Sister Michelle Fernandez, SCTJM, director of Catholic Charities, and Angelica Toliver, direct care manager. After gaining approval from Ned Hill, medical center president, Ostertag met with pastoral care and case management personnel at OSF Sacred Heart to work out distribution details.

The “closet” and its initial supply bags — containing items such as toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, and cleaning products — were blessed by Father Deusdedit Byomuhangi, manager of pastoral care, on March 7. Ideally, pastoral care personnel will be the ones delivering the bags to — and praying with — patient recipients.

Sister Michelle told The Catholic Post that the St. Nicholas Charity on Wheels van now makes monthly stops at 21 sites in the diocese, with Geneseo recently added to the van’s route.

“We’re giving more than 300 bags a month” through the mobile van project, said Sister Michelle. As demand has grown, so has support, with the Peoria Diocesan Council of Catholic Women recently coordinating donations in various regions. Individual donations — of money, gift cards, or hygiene items — are always welcomed. More information is available at cdop.org/catholic-charities.

Meanwhile, both Sister Michelle and Ostertag said St. Nick’s Closets may spread to other OSF HealthCare locations.

“OSF HealthCare and Catholic Charities are very much mission-aligned,” said Ostertag. “I’m excited to find other ways to support and partner with Catholic Charities to serve our communities in the spirit of Christ.”

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