The St. John Volunteer Corps in St. Louis Missouri, has found several ways of fulfilling the age-old mission of the Hospitallers, aiding the poor and the sick, succoring travelers, and tending those who have suffered in battle.
As a group, the St. Louis SJVC works with Fisher House on the campus of the Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center. There, in a lovely setting overlooking the Mississippi River, a home is provided for people who are far from home because of an illness, either their own or that of someone close to them. Most are the loved ones of patients receiving treatment in one of the two hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the St. Louis area. Others are themselves veterans who are receiving outpatient treatment under the aegis of the VA at any of the area’s hospitals. And still others are active duty military personnel whose dependents are receiving treatment at those facilities. (Many of that last group are new parents, whose newborns have been brought to the advanced neo-natal intensive care units in St. Louis.) All are more than 50 miles from their homes and dealing with an unfamiliar environment and a complicated treatment delivery system as well as their medical problems. Many groups join with the VA and the Fisher House Foundation to make that experience less burdensome than it otherwise would be.
St. John’s contribution is a lovingly prepared dinner. Each month, usually five or six St. John volunteers appear to serve the food—which has often been prepared in their own kitchens—lay out the serving line, serve the meal, do the dishes, and leave extra portions ready for residents who have not been able to return from the hospitals for dinner at the usual time. Sometimes St. John volunteers dine with the guests; sometimes they welcome them into the family kitchen and chat as they cook or clean. Without fail, they take time to speak with the guests—to listen to their stories—and to provide the human sympathy than can be hard to find in any large and busy institutional setting. After an evening at Fisher House, any member of St. John can feel that he or she has done real good and continued the Order of St. John’s best traditions.
In St. Louis, the St. John Volunteer Corps also works with the Caregiver Support service provided by the VA Voluntary Services Office. Through that program, volunteers who have gone through the VA’s badging process—which includes fingerprinting, background checks, TB tests, and regular training—provide respites for caregivers. Those caregivers are the wives, children, and others whose constant presence makes it possible for an aging or disabled veteran to remain in his own home and out of costly and disorienting institutional care settings. These caregivers rarely get any time for themselves—even to attend church services or see to their own medical needs. To give them back some of the independence they have sacrificed—and to give the veteran another friendly presence in his life—Caregiver Support sends a volunteer simply to spend time with the veteran. Volunteers perform no medical or nursing functions, and a VA coordinator makes sure they know the limitations of their responsibilities and who to call if help is needed. They enrich the veterans’ lives simply by talking to them, watching TV or films with them—the jokes are always funnier when shared—working with them on the computer, playing cards, or reading them the paper. The caregiver gets to leave the house or just have an hour to herself. The St. John Volunteer Corps in St. Louis has provided hundreds of hours of service to this program.