A person cant help but feel inspired and a little like an underachiever when speaking with Susie Jennings. The Baylor University Medical Center (Dallas) RN, who is a 20-year supervisor in the PACU unit, is the head of a philanthropic organization that seems to be doing more with each year to help others. Operation Care Dallas, which Jennings founded in 1993, has helped about 50,000 homeless people in and around the city and has taken its show on the road, helping 10,000 people during mission trips to India, the Philippines and Africa between 2008 and 2010.
Besides providing food during every mission trip, Jennings says, We work as Jesus servants, washing peoples feet and giving them new socks and shoes, with foot-washing being a trademark of the ministry. The organizations next major event is Operation Christmas Gift 2010, a holiday extravaganza Dec. 18 that begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Dallas Convention Center. Children and families will be bused in from surrounding cities such as Fort Worth, Arlington and Irving. Jennings hopes to help 15,000 homeless individuals that day.
Area hospitals will provide flu shots and dental and vision care, and well have a free telephone bank so the homeless can reunite with family members, job and housing opportunities and so much more, Jennings says, thanking fellow RNs, physicians and other colleagues for volunteering at these events over the years.
Were also going to honor war veterans in the area, including homeless vets. Its going to be amazing.
Just as amazing as her outreach efforts is how Jennings got started on this path, turning a tragedy the death of her husband into a desire to serve others. Jennings husband David, who was diagnosed with a serotonin deficiency and deep depression, went missing for a month in early 1993 and was found in Oklahoma after having taken his own life. Jennings credits her ability to cope during his monthlong disappearance and the tragic ending with her strong faith. She felt the need to give back afterward and got the opportunity just before Thanksgiving that year.
I was passing by a Dallas spot where many homeless people gather, and I heard God tell me to bring them blankets.
Thus began Jennings ministry. She raised enough funds among Baylor nurses and physicians to buy 100 blankets. And, with the help of 20 volunteers, distributed them just before Thanksgiving. The next month, she repeated the good deed before Christmas.
I was called Blanket Lady after that, Jennings says, with appreciation for her nickname.
Since then, the blanket ministry has grown into larger efforts, such as Operation Philippines in July 2008, in which thousands of homeless children in the city of Loilo were provided with food, sleeping bags, clothing and medical assistance by Jennings and her team of volunteers. She has organized similar 14-day missions to India and Africa.
As outreach efforts grow, so do the number of volunteers needed to make them successful. My first blanket ministry, I had 20 volunteers, and for Operation Christmas Gift in 2009, in which we served 11,000 homeless children and families, 3,000 people volunteered, she says. Hospitals such as Baylor, Parkland and Medical City sent volunteers and many others signed up to help. Its such an amazing experience to help others. I cant imagine not doing it.
Operation Christmas Gift 2010s loftier goal to serve 15,000 builds upon past successes but is not without its challenges. Were still in need of volunteers and donations, but we have a lot of faith this will happen.
Looking back to the first blanket ministry 17 years ago, and into the future in which she envisions the ministry being a full-time pursuit, Jennings says, Im still the Blanket Lady. But theres more to give than blankets and more people to help out there.
For information on Operation Care Dallas and how to volunteer or make a donation, visit OperationCareDallas.org.