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COVID doesn’t slow Friends of Children’s Hospital’s support

Oct. 29, 2020, 10:16 AM


by Christina Echegaray

In the thick of the pandemic, friends are as important as ever.

Since 1972, Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, a volunteer organization, has been supporting the hospital through fundraising, outreach and patient and family programs. Friends members were not going to let a novel coronavirus derail that steadfast commitment.

Abigail Leggio, 2, is one of the many patients being helped by Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Abigail Leggio, 2, is one of the many patients being helped by Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. (photo by Susan Urmy)

With social distancing, public health safety measures and limited visitors allowed at Children’s Hospital, the group knew it had to get creative and pivot to maintain its mission and continue with the many existing programs. While COVID-19 paused typical activities, Friends, which has a roster of 3,800 members, realized that their support was critical now more than ever before.

The annual luncheon kickoff, which usually occurs inside the hospital in September to look at the year ahead, recently went virtual. During the virtual Coffee Talk with Friends, the group showcased how Friends initiatives were still reaching families at a critical time.

“Friends support adds a special touch for patients, families and staff in the hospital, and even though we’re not able to be inside the hospital walls during the pandemic, we’re hoping our presence can still be felt,” said Friends President Wendy Gatto. “Amidst COVID when hospital visitors and activities are limited for health and safety, we know that the mission of Friends is even more crucial to advance.”

A typical year’s support from Friends includes lunches for families whose children are in the hospital; art and music supplies for patients to engage in therapeutic activities; sensory supplies for the Emergency Department; bingo for patients; sponsored visits of Disney characters; and more.

Friends has also made several large philanthropic gifts over the years to support programs like care for premature babies, diabetes research, palliative care, pediatric cancer and care for children with complex medical conditions.

The group’s other past efforts and contributions include support for a pediatric ambulance, the Music Therapy Program and a quiet room in the hospital’s 33-bed expansion in 2012.

In March, all in-person activities were paused at the hospital. The 30th anniversary of Friends & Fashion, a hallmark event of the Friends organization, was canceled. Still, many patrons donated the price of their tickets, further bolstering the group’s commitment to keep doing its work from outside the hospital walls.

The 2,000-plus meals that Friends provides monthly to families at the hospital also did not stop. While the group couldn’t come into the building to deliver meals, volunteers wearing masks have dropped off meals in the garage of Children’s Hospital to a staff member to be distributed to families inside. Individual members also made and donated cloth masks to Vanderbilt for doctors, nurses and staff to wear during the pandemic.

“I want to say thank you to Friends for the work that you do on our behalf. As a children’s hospital, we operate 24/7, 365 days a year – pandemic or no pandemic. And our mission to provide hope and healing to all children remains the same. The pandemic certainly adds a complexity to our day-to-day routine, but we’re still caring for children,” said Meg Rush, MD, MMHC, President of Children’s Hospital.

“Friends has been a longstanding ‘friend’ to the Children’s Hospital organization and has enabled growth for many of our programs, most recently including palliative care and diabetes research. We can’t carry out innovative programs without the support of our partners like Friends. Thank you for continuing to be our ambassadors and for spreading the word of the great work that we do every day to care for children,” Rush said.

July 4 was another example of Friends continuing a longstanding tradition — despite a pandemic — with its annual picnic inside the hospital for staff, patients and families. While volunteers couldn’t come into the hospital this year, they had food delivered for people to enjoy.

Recently, Friends also announced the launch of a new virtual series called “Friends Connect,” which features online workshops on various Sundays. The workshops, which raise funds for Children’s Hospital, include a floral design class, an art class, a session on home organization and a cooking class. The first workshop, the floral design class, kicked off Oct. 25.

Another signature annual event, An Evening with Friends, also has transitioned from an in-person event to a virtual occasion. The evening typically involves a Nashville-style outing with entertainment and friends. This year’s version will be An Evening with Friends — At Home Edition, where supporters can host a virtual get-together with friends or lead a fundraising page, all to support Children’s Hospital patients and programs.

The Gifts from Friends program will also continue to help patients and families this year with holiday cards, e-cards, gift tags and cookie tins from the Christie Cookie Co. Items have been designed with artwork from current and former patients, and funds from the products will support initiatives at the hospital.

“Life has changed, but through it all, Friends has had many remarkable successes. From my angle as the director, it has been beautiful to watch how our mission continues through the work of our Friends members,” said Cindy Comperry, director of Friends.

“In-person activities may be paused because of visitor limitations and public health safety measures, but that does not mean our Friends programs stopped.”

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