Kiara Shepard

Kiara Shepard stopped at a table with aromatherapy products like strawberry lemonade soap, in front of The T Health Education Center at 5874 Delmar Blvd. on Saturday, August 22. On Shepard’s right is The T founder Dr. LJ Punch, and to her left is staff member Marcus Hunt

They call Erica Jones, the project manager for The T, “Ms. E,” and she was taking care of business the day before the “Soft Brand Opening” of The T, a community health education center located at 5874 Delmar Blvd., just east of the University City Loop. The T’s logo, a “T” with a slash through it, stands for anti-trauma or trauma reduction. 

Ms. E directs a small multi-racial volunteer crew who were hard at work, all masked and at socially distanced desks, assembling packages to address trauma and save lives. The packages included masks, mask filters, tourniquets, gauze pads, and mini-thermometers.

Dr. LJ Punch, founder of The T, was out in the back yard loading equipment into the “TWheels,” an emergency response vehicle and mobile classroom. A Barnes-Jewish Hospital trauma surgeon, Punch was appointed to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners in 2019 based on Punch's work to address gun violence, homelessness, and opioids with the nonprofit Power4STL.  Punch independently authored and presented strong recommendations urging government to be more responsive to the critical needs of the African-American community, which is plagued by systemic racism and unaccountable policing.

Working alongside Punch was Marcus Hunt, a young lead organizer and activist for poor and unhoused St. Louisans. Hunt was recently hired to become a part of The T team after collaborating with Punch following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

A mutual friend put Hunt and Punch in contact with each other when services for 500 unhoused St. Louisans were shut down. Punch helped Hunt provide first aid, hand sanitizers and masks needed for the unhoused to stay COVID-free. The day of The T’s grand re-opening, Saturday, August 22, Hunt explained that self-care is a basic human need and The T is providing “a place where those of us in high poverty can access these things.”  

Hunt said that The T is fighting trauma on every front, “financial, emotional or physical.” The health educational center was founded and developed by Punch to interrupt the cycle of trauma that people experience generationally. The message of African-American self-empowerment is clear. “Make it so that you can be an individual in our community that can handle some of this trauma that we have,” Hunt said.

On Saturday, The T sidewalk market provided free T-masks, information cards and mini-thermometers. Mini and deluxe first aid kits, T-gear (including t-shirts, baseball caps, strap-on-pouches and backpacks) were on sale, as well as soaps, Narcan products to save a life in case of an overdose, essential oils and aromatherapy products made by local Black businesses.

Training and workshops at the T are free, and there are some free basic items set aside for those who don’t have the resources to purchase them; however, funds from sales support and sustain their efforts to replenish supplies and distribute them throughout vulnerable communities. 

Kiara Shepard, a passerby on her way to get her nails done, stopped at a table in front of The T, which displayed colorful aromatherapy products, like strawberry lemonade soap, against the backdrop of TWheels. This is a particularly good time to use aromatherapy products, Hunt noted. “One of the first thing you notice about COVID is that you lose your sense of smell,” he said. So, if one day you notice that “the cherry-cherry soap isn’t as cherry as the day before,” he said, “you might go seek some help, it might could save your life.” 

There were items for all ages: soaps, coloring books, T comic books and full face-masks, which included eye protection for children, who might have difficulty wearing a light cloth mask properly. 

The “T” stands, in part, for tourniquet – a simple technique for staunching flood flow that saves lives.

“A lot of people don’t understand that it takes 10-13 minutes before an ambulance reaches you and that’s the most dangerous thing when you can already be trained to be a first responder to an incidence of gun violence, a car accident, a stabbing,” Ms. E said.

The mini first aid kits included a tourniquet, gauze packs and scissors. Ms. E cautioned that this was not a first aid kit which should be used on or by children five years old or younger and emphasized that it’s important to understand how to make a blood clot to stop profuse bleeding from a person older than five. Though a tourniquet was provided in this kit, she said that an old cloth or even a long sock can help stop bleeding in a pinch. 

Hunt held up a tourniquet when providing a tour of the different stations to stress the importance of this live-saving tool.

“If someone is hurt, is bleeding, you can use this to save their precious juices, until someone who is properly or more trained can get there,” he said. “This is very important because a lot of times the community is the first responder for these traumas.”  

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