May 11, 2001

Volunteers provide valuable service at Children’s Hospital

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Todd Mann, left, and Elizabeth Franklin were among the family members who enjoyed the food provided by Friends of Children's Hospital Tuesday night. The dinner was part of Friends Hospital Hospitality Night, an ongoing volunteer effort to help families of children in Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Volunteers provide valuable service at Children’s Hospital

Brothers Zachary and Noah Harris waited their turn in line to get dinner at this week's Family Soup Night, provided by Friends of Children's Hospital. The brothers had a sibling in the hospital. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Brothers Zachary and Noah Harris waited their turn in line to get dinner at this week's Family Soup Night, provided by Friends of Children's Hospital. The brothers had a sibling in the hospital. (photo by Dana Johnson)

More than 20 people anxiously waited, milling around, chatting, and nervously looking at the clock. Children continued playing in the 5th floor playroom, unaware of their parent’s impatience. The clock showed 5:15 p.m., when a woman finally appeared pushing a large cart loaded with vast amounts of food.

That woman was Suann Davis, a Friends of Children’s Hospital volunteer who has spent the last year directing and organizing special activities four Tuesdays a month for families and children in the hospital.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she apologized to the families. “It’ll be set up in just a few minutes.”

This Tuesday was family dinner night – eagerly anticipated by the families.

Todd Mann, who has two children in the pediatric intensive care unit, is from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He doesn’t get many breaks away from the daily diet of hospital food.

“This is just great,” he said as he loaded his plate with the night’s special of taco salad. “I’ve been really impressed with the entire Children’s Hospital. But when I heard the volunteers did this, I was just amazed. It’s really great.”

Comments like these have kept Davis and her fellow Friends members involved in the program.

“The families are here for days,” Davis said. “This helps create a home environment and gets their tummies full. I get a lot more out of doing this than anyone can imagine. It’s a blessing to be here and it provides a great perspective – it makes you thankful and appreciative for what you have and the health of your children.”

Davis has two toddlers at home and works part-time. She serves on the Friends board of directors and has volunteered at Vanderbilt for more than eight years. This past year she has overseen the Friends Hospital Hospitality Night program, and it has kept her quite busy.

While this Tuesday night was dinner, other Tuesday nights focus on different needs. The first Tuesday of the month is dedicated as “massage and cookie night.” Keep in Touch Therapy provides mini-massages to parents, and the Christy Cookie company donates cookies. The second Tuesday of the month is the family dinner night. The third Tuesday is pizza bingo night. Families gather to play bingo and eat pizza, and all of them leave with donated prizes. The fourth Tuesday is brunch, provided by the Williamson County Chapter of the Friends organization. Pastries and other goodies are provided in the family waiting areas as well as pantry items for families to use throughout the week. This is the fourth year of the program.

“Suann has done an outstanding job,” explained Janet Cross, director of child life services. “She has really gone beyond the call-of-duty for these families.”

It wasn’t long before all the families had made their way through the line. Davis had made sure they had containers so they could take the food back to their child’s room. Finally, the rush slowed down and Davis was able to relax.

“This is my last night of doing this,” she said. “We serve one year terms as committee chairs and my term for this project is almost over.”

She said she was proud of the opportunity to serve the families and was proud of two major accomplishments over the last year. One was to provide a holiday dinner with all the trimmings, and the other was to have a big Fourth of July party. Both were big successes.

“The Fourth of July party was great,” she said. “We had over 400 people attend. The families were so appreciative.”

Davis was reflective about her volunteer work with Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital as she watched a child make his way through the food line.

“A lot of people ask me how I handle being around sick children and volunteering here,” she said. “But you know, this is their chance for life, to improve their quality of life. All hope they have is here. I can’t imagine doing anything better.”