Betty Wagner was missing her morning coffee with her friend so she started a new routine—going through the Subway drive-through, parking next to her friend, visiting, and driving through again when she needs a refill.

The 1948 Mennonite Hospital School of Nursing graduate lives alone in her small town of Lexington, a town that’s become even smaller since Illinois residents were ordered to shelter in place March 21.

That’s one of the reasons she welcomed a call and visit from Mennonite College of Nursing Dean Judy Neubrander and Director of Development Jennifer Sedbrook. As the two brainstormed what they could do to support older alumni and donors who may live alone, they decided to make phone calls and care packages.

“We’re trying to take care of those who have taken care of us,” Sedbrook said. “As I’ve been calling to check on them, the biggest thing they mention is boredom. I tell them we have a boredom-buster package to bring them.”

Packages include fresh fruit, puzzles, first aid supplies, snacks, and hand sanitizer. As they’re delivered, care is taken to follow social distance guidelines, leaving the packages at the door and waving from a distance. But Wagner wanted to greet the dean and Sedbrook at her front door.

She didn’t retire from her career as a surgical nurse until the age of 85. She worked through pandemics and cared for children with polio. She also saw cases of small pox and typhoid fever. In support of the next generation of nurses, she has established the Betty Wagner Endowed Scholarship.

Sedbrook and Neubrander will continue reaching out to alumni and donors, calling, emailing, and video conferencing to close the distance.

bags sitting in room

Staff members in the Mennonite College of Nursing are assembling these packages to deliver to alums quarantined in place.

“All these folks have family somewhere, but most of them are on their own,” Sedbrook said. “Stewardship is always part of what we do, but it takes on extra weight during this time.”

She has received emails from donors and their families about the care packages. One alumna said, “You guys are just too much. What a surprise. All that stuff. You didn’t forget a thing. Brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.”

Mennonite staff also reached out to their Bloomington-Normal hospital partners. The dean asked nursing directors if it would be OK to send pizzas to Emergency Department staff.

“They loved the idea,” Sedbrook said. “By noon, we had delivered pizzas, and also helped the local economy by choosing locally owned pizza places.”

Both hospitals are clinical sites for student nurses, as well as major employers. “There’s a really close relationship among all of us,” Sedbrook said.

Paula Porter, director of emergency services at OSF Healthcare St. Joseph Medical Center said in an email, “We sincerely appreciate you thinking of us. As a former adjunct faculty and MCN grad, I am so proud of this service you provided to our team. “

Mennonite is also donating gowns and gloves from the Nursing Simulation Lab to an area clinic. The outreach is just another example of Redbirds living the University’s values.