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A Legacy of Giving Back During the Holidays

By Kiera Smith-Brown

As the holidays roll around and we take time to relax with family and friends, wrap gifts, light candles, and reflect on what we’re thankful for, we are reminded of the importance of giving.

Throughout the years, Penn Medicine’s staff have found creative ways to bring cheer to the community and give back to families across the region we serve during the holiday season. This includes ensuring that patients and families having a hard time during the season have gifts to unwrap, warm meals to eat, or a fun holiday celebration to attend. Many of these programs occur annually while others are all year-round but have a special meaning during the holidays.


Bringing A Taste of Home to Those Receiving Care During the Holidays

Penn Medicine’s Clyde F. Barker Transplant House is comprised of just 13 rooms and has hosted nearly 4,500 families since it opened its doors in 2011. At Penn Medicine’s Clyde F. Barker Transplant House, transplant patients and their families are able to enjoy a homelike experience while they await a life-saving organ transplant or recover from surgery. An important contribution that helps make the house feel like a home away from home is the beloved guest chefs program. The year-round program invites groups to support patients and their families by making a home-cooked meal. Each guest chef is welcome to create their dish in the fully-equipped transplant house community kitchen.

During the holidays, this tradition becomes even more meaningful for patients who may be missing out on annual traditions, particularly as they grapple with what could be one of the most trying times of their lives.

“The smell of the food makes the center more home-like and peaceful during the holidays,” said Manager of Operations and Community Relations Kirsten King. “Everyone eats together and it creates a sense of community and gives guests the chance to have a shared experience with people who most patients would normally never interact with.”

Not only do volunteers come to the transplant house to cook, they also come to display their holiday decorating skills. Volunteers from the Mickey Gallagher Foundation, along with Penn Medicine employees, decorate the house every year and create a festive environment for the families to spend time in. 

For some patients, the feeling of being home for the holidays has a lasting effect. King says one former patient and resident of the transplant house has returned every year for the past six years to make Christmas dinner for the new guests.

What Would Santa Do? Spreading Holiday Cheer Through Gift Giving

For the past few years, PPMC has partnered with the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) to adopt families for the holidays. PEC provides housing units for low-income families who are experiencing difficult times. Departments across Penn Presbyterian are invited to “adopt” a PEC family and purchase items each family member might need or want based on their age. In some cases, department members have the opportunity to meet the families in person to present them with gifts, but families can also choose to receive the gifts through the PEC. In past years, PPMC employees have also participated in “Operation Box of Joy,” another partnership with PEC that allows individuals or departments to pick a child and gift them a box that includes one toy and a multitude of essential items like clothing and toiletries.

“All the families are very grateful and appreciative of what we are able to provide,” said PPMC Assistant Executive Director Gary Ginsberg. “It gives us a chance to bring joy and comfort to families who don’t have the means to do so on their own.”

Similarly, the Holly Days gives Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) employees the opportunity to adopt families from local shelters to fulfill their holiday wish lists. Additional staff donate thousands of dollars in gift cards that are gifted to families. Teams have also donated books, clothing, and other gifts to veteran group homes as well as fulfilling certain veterans’ wish lists.

“People go all out – you see how they care for people in our community,” said Phyllis Murray, executive assistant in HUP administration, who coordinates the Holly Days program, in a HUPdate interview.

The gratitude from the families show just how much it makes an impact. “The things that you bought for me warms my heart and brings my mother joy,” said a 9-year-old from a local shelter. Read more Holly Days thank-you notes in HUPdate.

Employees at Pennsylvania Hospital (PAH) were also in the giving mood last year, including gifts for our four-legged friends! With donations ranging from paper towels to treats, a local animal shelter was gifted an entire donation box to put under their Christmas tree by the Sleep Center and Neurophysiology teams. While the Children’s Case Management and Radiology teams were able to send four over-flowing carts of gifts to 100 struggling families in the area, it was truly Merry Christmas at PAH.

At Lancaster General Health and Princeton Health, employees and shared with one another for the holidays. Both enjoyed holiday meals: Princeton’s included holiday lunch and dinner celebrations for physicians and staff served by senior leadership. At Lancaster General Health, employees share a meal and also continue their annual Spirit of Giving and adopt fellow staff members going through difficult times and help make their family’s holiday wishes come true!

Other programs include the annual “Believe in the Magic of Santa” gift distribution event at PPMC that provides personalized gifts and special experiences for patients and their families.


Cookies, Candy Canes, and Decking the Halls

Spreading the holiday spirit throughout the community includes organizing events for local children. For over a decade, employees at PPMC have worked with the West Powelton Concerned Community Council to execute the Annual Children’s Holiday Party. Through generous sponsors like the BBLM Architects, The Christmas party provides children with a free breakfast, visits from characters from their favorite shows, and of course a chance to speak with Santa Claus in person. The children also receive presents and plenty of cookies.

There are also plenty of reminders of Penn’s holiday spirit for patients to see throughout the hospital. Decorations can be found all around HUP, courtesy of the 20-year-old tradition of the tree-decorating contest. Each year the competitive spirit ramps up and helps turn the hospital into a nostalgic winter wonderland.


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