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Nurses, advisory council and Home Depot team up to comfort families

cancer patient Comfort Cart

The Cancer Institute at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita soon will have another avenue for helping patients in the final hours of their journey: A modified tool box stocked with complimentary items designed to make their families more comfortable during their bedside vigils.

The idea for the "Comfort Cart" originated with nurses Tari Hopper, Brandi Gutzmer and Rebekah Snyder, who'd heard about the concept being used elsewhere and wanted to launch a similar initiative on their unit.

They presented it to Via Christi's Oncology Patient and Family Advisory Council, which voted to help fund and operationalize the project.

"From there, the ball got rolling really fast," says Linda Starnes, who leads the subcommittee overseeing the project, supported by Stephanie Shaffer and Sandra Hodapp.

When Shaffer’s son, Kurt, heard about it, he suggested that they apply for a grant to purchase the tool box from his employer, Home Depot.

Lois Millspaugh, staff liaison for the advisory council, then wrote and submitted a grant proposal and had it approved — all within 24 hours.

“We just thought it was the right thing to do for the community," says Tamara Brown, manager of Home Depot's North Woodlawn store. “We had what they needed so we were happy to help.”

Efforts are now under way to work with the nurses on the unit to design decorative magnetic panels for the Comfort Cart, determine what items are most needed and stock the cart with donated items ranging from toiletries, magazines and non-perishable food and drinks.

The Comfort Cart will be stored in one of the unit's two nursing stations and offered to families transitioning to hospice care. With the family's approval, the cart will be placed outside the patient's room, where it will serve a dual purpose.

"As a volunteer, it lets me know not to go into that room at that time," says Shaffer.

Starnes says she anticipates that the Comfort Cart should be decorated and stocked and an operational plan finalized by March.

If you’d like to donate or help fund the purchase of supplies, contact Millspaugh at 316-268-6792 or

Pictured above are, from left: Sandra Hodapp, Stephanie Shaffer and Linda Starnes
About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.