News Blog

‘Tis the Season for Service

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Penn Medicine is proud to have faculty, staff, medical students, and volunteers who are committed to making a meaningful mark on their local communities – whether by providing much-needed support and resources to underserved families, hosting health fairs and blood pressure screenings, or partnering with local non-profit organizations. While Penn’s employees enthusiastically share their knowledge, expertise, and compassion all year round, there is undoubtedly something especially “magical” about giving back during the “most wonderful time of the year.”

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Nowhere was this dedication to making the season bright clearer than at Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell’s 18th Annual Holiday Party for the Homeless and Disadvantaged on December 13. Over 150 Penn Medicine CAREs volunteers teamed up both beforehand to wrap thousands of presents, and during the ever-growing event to distribute those festively packaged gift and toys (and even bikes!) to local children, serve up a tasty holiday spread (courtesy of the Keven Parker Company), and share the spirit of the holidays with nearly 6,000 local individuals and families in need. Councilwoman Blackwell noted that an event like this and the outpouring of support from organizations like Penn “makes all the difference in the world.”

“We invite all the people who live on the streets, people who are living in shelters, and people who are just having a hard time this year and need a little help to get through the holiday season,” Blackwell said. “We make sure that every child here gets a gift – a gift so that they know during the holiday season that they’re cared about and they’re loved.”

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That love for the local community was present in full-force with handshakes with Mayor Jim Kenney, high-fives with volunteers, and hugs with Santa Claus for all. Between dancing and face-painting, playing at the laptop station and on the moon bounces, getting free haircuts from Philly Cuts and photos with Santa, and more, the Convention Center was abuzz with activity and excitement – a welcome respite from the stresses that can plague us all during the season, but especially those facing food and housing insecurities and a hard time buying gifts for their children.

“I look forward to the Councilwoman’s Holiday Party most of all because I get to work alongside some of our best employees,” said Laura Lombardo, Penn Medicine’s manager of Community Relations. “They engage the community members they meet at these events, asking them about their day, commenting on their fun children, and offering season greetings. Serving at these community events is more than doing a task; it’s about engaging people and contributing to our community. Our employees understand that and carry it out effortlessly.”

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But that certainly wasn’t all! Each of Penn Medicine’s entities has been busy over the past few months as staff have spread the love through fundraisers, donation drives, and personal and team outreach efforts. The season kicked off with nearly 100 employees volunteering at the Christian Compassion CDC’s 15th Annual Great Gathering Feast for families currently in shelters, and the Tasker Elite organization’s Thanksgiving meal for over 1,500 seniors, and has only gained momentum since then.

For the 16th year running, departments across the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania have touched the lives of those in need through their “Holly Days” program, this year fulfilling the holiday wish lists of 17 veterans from the Veterans Group and 23 families at the Interim House, and providing gift cards and donations to seniors and to homeless youth at the Covenant House. These “HUP Angels,” as program coordinator and executive assistant Phyllis Murray calls them, go above any beyond every year to make sure that each sponsored family and individual knows that Penn cares about their health, happiness, and holiday joy, and this year was no exception. HUP’s Perioperative team also organized a toiletry and clothing drive for Prevention Point, a local non-profit that offers harm reduction services, housing, and meals for the homeless.

At Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, there was a similarly “outrageous” response to the “Operation Box of Joy” program, coordinated by executive assistant, Kim Hibbs. In conjunction with community groups throughout the West Powelton area, including the People’s Emergency Center, over 220 boxes – each containing necessities like pajamas and toiletries, and one “Wow!” item – were donated to children ages two through 14. PPMC and the West Powelton Concerned Community Council also joined forces again for the much-loved annual Children’s Holiday Party, which invited 125 underserved children to enjoy a delicious hot breakfast (and cookies!), a magic show, a visit from Poppy and Branch of Trolls, and presents given out by Santa himself.

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In honor of his wife Kathleen, a lung cancer patient at the Abramson Cancer Center at PPMC who passed away in 2014, donor Chris Rotz also provided over a dozen lung patients and their families with presents and gift cards to restore a sense of hope and normalcy during the holidays. One patient in particular who insisted she only needed prayers was instead treated to a surprise two-day New York City adventure with her daughter, including a trip to the American Girl Place and a Rockettes show, all via limousine!

To ensure that those in need do not see warmth as a luxury this winter, Pennsylvania Hospital’s newly established Cultural and Community Awareness Council (CCAC) teamed up with the Hall-Mercer Community Behavioral Health Center to organize a donation drive for adults’ and children’s clothing, shoes, and travel-sized toiletries. CCAC co-chair and Cardiac Cathetherization Lab nurse Shirley Puhiera RN, BSN, noted that she was overwhelmed by the “outpouring of generosity from the employees” and was so happy to see residents of local homeless shelters leaving with multiple bags of necessities during the “Giveaway Day.”

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PAH’s Diagnostic Radiology residents also adopted a family for the holidays, and perioperative nurses from both PAH and PPMC came together to prepare and serve meals to patients awaiting a life-saving transplant and their families at the Gift of Life Family House.

Chester County Hospital and Lancaster General Health also joined in on the holiday outreach, showing that Penn Medicine employees are committed to showing care and compassion inside the hospital and out. Under the guidance of pathologist assistant Hannah C. Chapman, PA, CCH’s lab members donated over $1,500 plus gifts for four West Chester families in need, as well as $150 Shop Rite gift certificates for each family. What started as an exercise in the importance of giving among Chapman’s family and friends became a team effort, and during their wrapping party, the enthusiastic staff members were already making plans to repeat the project next year!

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This also marked the 13th year of LGH’s “Spirit of Giving” program, which provides assistance to employees in need during the holidays. A whopping 106 departments volunteered to shop, wrap gifts, and purchase gift cards, and their generosity and compassion ensured a happy holiday season for 87 “adopted” LGH employees and their families. For the fourth year in a row, the Labor and Delivery team at LGH’s Women & Babies Hospital also purchased holiday gifts for 100 children of families in need. The children were selected by the nurses and social workers from LG Health's Healthy Beginnings Plus program, a holistic maternal/child health program that is committed to empowering pregnant women and new moms.

Of course, Penn Medicine’s employees show no sign of stopping now. Even when the “season of giving” winds down, Penn’s volunteers will still be reaching out, offering a helping hand, and striving to improve the health and wellness of their communities – no New Year’s resolution needed. With CAREs grants to fulfill, donation drives to organize, fundraising events to plan, and more, 2018 is sure to be another year of service.


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Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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