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Delivering Love for Thanksgiving – in 132 Baskets
Samaritan hospice patient Margaret Skedelski (left) beams as she unpacks the basket of holiday meals, treats, and table decorations delivered by the Mancine family, who volunteer for the Giving Thanks, Preserving Memories project each year. She thanked them profusely for giving up their Saturday morning to deliver the beautiful basket to her and her family
Submitted by Carol Paprocki, Director of Communications, Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice
Coping with the physical, emotional, and spiritual demands of a chronic illness can be taxing for patients and caregivers at any time of year. But the holiday season can bring heightened pressure and emotion for families who may be sharing their last celebrations with their loved ones.
So, 14 years ago, a group of teen volunteers conceived an idea that has become a cherished annual tradition for the community served by Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, southern New Jersey’s first and largest hospice.
They called the project Giving Thanks, Preserving Memories. Its goal was to provide a happier Thanksgiving by allowing families to enjoy their precious time together without the worry of preparing a traditional holiday meal.
Every year since, the Saturday before Thanksgiving has become “delivery day” when volunteer drivers pick up baskets brimming with food, fixins,’ and love for drop-off to patients and families throughout Samaritan’s 2,200 square- mile-service area.
Members of Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice’s volunteer services department who coordinate Giving Thanks, Preserving Memories, a 14-year tradition for the organization’s hospice patients and families, from left: Sharon Wenner, Director Sally Cezo, Anita Nieves, Linda Brennan. Wenner facilitates Samaritan’s SamariTeens volunteer group which carries on the rewarding annual Thanksgiving project conceived by teen volunteers in 2003.
While delivery day is the satisfying culmination, Giving Thanks, Preserving Memories is preceded by months of preparation overseen by Samaritan’s four-member volunteer services staff. This year, they collaborated with Samaritan’s social workers to identify 132 families who would welcome a basket delivery. “These baskets are not based upon economic need,” explains Director of Volunteer Services Sally Cezo, “but rather on the desire to let our families know we’re thinking of them.”
Meanwhile, Samaritan’s development department was identifying potential donors to contribute the cost of baskets and their contents. Community volunteers and quilting groups were busily sewing brightly colored table runners to adorn the baskets, and give families’ holiday tables a festive air. School and scout groups, along with Samaritan’s teen volunteers, created table decorations. And volunteer services staff geographically matched 36 volunteer drivers with patients receiving baskets, mapping out directions for each delivery.
A sampling of the many craft projects created by SamariTeens, and local school and scouting groups, to decorate the holiday tables of Samaritan’s hospice patients and their families.
One week before, everything kicked into high gear! A staff caravan collected the baskets from a local crafts store. Members of SamariTeens, Samaritan’s group of 93 high-school-aged volunteers from 25 schools in three counties, gathered at a local corporation’s kitchen. As Chef Anthony DePasquale of the CulinArt Group cooked the traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, succotash, and gravy, the teens pre-plated the 520 meals in freezer containers for easy storage and preparation. On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, SamariTeens gathered again to assemble non-perishable items with assembly-line precision (and ample doses of laughter).
SamariTeen members are aproned and ready to plate and freeze the delicious turkey dinner cooked by Chef Anthony De Pasquale of CulinArt Group food service.
Finally, on “D-day,” drivers and their family members picked up their assignments as teens added the requested number of meals to each basket and carried them to volunteers’ cars.
“This project was conceived 14 years ago by our teen volunteers as a beautiful gift to our families – a lovely way to brighten their holidays,” explains Cezo. “It remains a truly inter-generational event with small children helping their parents to make deliveries, teens helping prepare the meals, and adults of all ages volunteering their time.”
SamariTeen members assist volunteer driver Cliff Mancine, wife Kathy, and sons Brandon and Avery, to load baskets for delivery to three Samaritan hospice patients and their families.
Patient Margaret Skedelski agrees! Beaming as she opened the door to accept the beautiful basket from the family of Samaritan board member Cliff Mancine, she thanked them for giving up a beautiful Saturday morning to visit her. “This is just so lovely. Samaritan has been taking such good care of me,” she said with a smile.
“It feels good to make a difference. I love knowing that people will be spending more time with their families,” said SamariTeen Chloe Chaet, 15 of Eastern High School.
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