Family with CHOP sign and decorated van On Monday May 4, 2020, residents and staff at St. Barnabas Mission shelter received a very special surprise. Around 1 p.m., a car parade began its route from the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Primary Care Center to the shelter, where families and staff lined the corners of Girard Avenue and Edgewood Street.

Homeless Health Initiative (HHI) volunteers, CHOP employees and a couple of St. Barnabas employees (who had been working from home) drove past the shelter, honking their horns, waving and holding signs to show their appreciation and support. A police car from the 19th Police District provided a safe escort for the cars. The event was coordinated by Melissa Johnson, MSW, HHI social work trainer.

“We hoped to bring a ray of sunshine during a dark and depressing time for families living in shelters,” Johnson says. “We also really miss seeing our families and shelter staff, so part of it was for our benefit, too. It felt so good to see familiar-if-masked faces. It was also really special for me that my children were able to be a part of it. They held up a sign and waved to everyone. They were excited to get out of the house and see mommy's friends from work.”

HHI volunteer Emily Thomas, MS OTR/L, and her fiancée Derek Macaulay, were in the last car. They stopped to drop off donations such as food, cleaning supplies, occupational therapy activity toolkits for children, and self-care kits for parents and shelter staff.

Family with CHOP sign and decorated van "I had the idea to make the toolkits when I realized we were no longer able to provide community groups for the shelters and schools were closed,” Thomas says. “As a therapist, I know how important it is for their physical and mental health to stay engaged in age-appropriate activities and occupations, in addition to managing stress and changes in their routines. I selected items that were diverse and focused around play, creativity, learning and self-care."

Johnson’s efforts were recognized by the CHOP Foundation by asking her to model in the 2020 virtual edition of The Runway, a CHOP fundraiser and fashion show.

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