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Docs lend a hand to those in need

December 22, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Emergency room doctor Scott Wegner said he feels there's more to treating patients than taking care of their medical needs.

In that same vein, he said he couldn't help but notice that many of the ER patients he met were disconnected from family and the community.

When he learned years ago that Nick Giannaris would be discontinuing his annual community Christmas dinner, Wegner talked to two other doctors, who agreed to help him put on a community meal.

"It was really done with little forethought," Wegner said. "We really relied on everyone feeling good about it. Now, it has grown certainly far beyond what everyone thought it would be."

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Drs. Stephen Kotch and Thomas Gilbert also were part of the trio that started the Lend-a-Hand dinner, pulling the first one together within three weeks and paying for it themselves. The first dinner for 350 was prepared and served out of Kotch's church's kitchen.

"None of us knew what we were doing," Wegner admits. "It's so easy now."

This is the seventh year for the dinner, which now is delivered to those in need, including those in housing complexes such as Potomac Towers and Walnut Towers, and identified through schools. This year, 2,100 meals will be prepared.

The meal is funded by the Washington County Hospital medical staff and Maryland Emergency Physicians. Most of the 100 volunteers are hospital staff members who donate their time the day before Christmas to assemble or deliver the meals.

Experience and the expertise of Judy Fogelsonger, the hospital's director of nutrition services, turned the dinner into a fine-tuned production. The cooked ham and turkey breast is purchased from Penn Avenue Meats, and side dishes are prepared at the Robin's Nest at Robinwood Medical Center and the hospital kitchen.

Wegner, 46, who works at a medical school in Bethesda, Md., and part time at the Washington County Hospital emergency room, said he arrives at Robinwood at 6 a.m. to get things started. With the volunteers' help, individually packaged meals -- including ham, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie -- are ready for delivery at 10 a.m.

Thanks to about 50 volunteers and the hospital's mapping system, all of the meals will be delivered within three hours, Wegner said.

"I think it helps the nurses and doctors better understand the people they see," said Wegner, who lives in Braddock Heights, Md. "For a time, it helps them feel more connected to the people they help."

For Wegner, learning firsthand the amount of poverty in the community has been eye-opening.

"It's important to do something," Wegner said. "Just to be completely alone on Christmas, this can help that a little bit."

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