Medical professionals and others join hands to deliver Christmas dinners

December 24, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Carol Chillemi, left, and Maureen Baker reach for a hot Christmas dinner Saturday as they package meals for delivery. Medical staff and volunteers gathered at Robinwood Medical Center to package and deliver meals to the community for the Lend-A-Hand Dinner.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — “Turkey. We need turkey,” a volunteer for the Lend-A-Hand Dinner said on Christmas Eve.

Considering the setting, she might have added, “Stat!”

One hundred or more volunteers, many of them emergency room physicians, nurses and staff, were putting together turkey and ham holiday dinners on Saturday at Robinwood Professional Center near Hagerstown.

Another 100 volunteers, including ambulance crews, were involved in delivering the 2,500 meals to families and senior citizens around Washington County, said Dr. Stephen Kotch, chairman of emergency medicine at the adjacent Meritus Medical Center.

For the first year of the Lend-A-Hand Dinner in 2003, the doctors and others bought and prepared meals in their homes and delivered them out of a church basement, Kotch said. He recalled they delivered somewhere between 100 and 200 meals that year.

“I baked eight pies that first year,” said Kim Barber of Waynesboro, Pa., an emergency room nurse. On Saturday, she was among those cutting and doling out slices of more than 300 pumpkin pies purchased for the dinner.

The job has been scaled up since those early years, with the cost being shared by Meritus Health and Medical Emergency Professionals, the group which staffs the ER, and the cooking being done in Meritus facilities.

The meals are packaged in what is normally a conference room at Robinwood Professional Center.

Dr. Noah Keller looked around the room where the meals were being put together in assembly line fashion and counted at least 10 ER doctors among the volunteers.

“And of course, we’re still manning the ER,” Keller added.

From turkey and potatoes to stuffing and green beans, the Styrofoam containers were passed from doctor to Cub Scout to nurse to parent, all being filled and bagged in a matter of seconds.

“It’s like a finely tuned process. Over the years, they’ve figured out how to make it work ... and people are happy to be here,” said Mary Rizk, director of corporate communications for Meritus Health.

“We’ve had more requests for meals this year than we’ve ever had,” she said.

Recipients of the meals are referred by social service agencies, according to Meritus Health spokeswoman Nicole Jovel.

Wearing a Santa cap, she agreed with Rizk that volunteers get a feeling of satisfaction from the annual effort, recalling a moment from a previous meal delivery.

“A little boy answered the door and he choked up,” Jovel said. “That’s when I said, ‘This is why I do it.’”

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