Comfort Food

By: Carolyn Arlen, Angela Hospice Volunteer

Mary Anne Ralko has been a volunteer at Angela Hospice for over 5 years. Her teenage son, Adam, volunteered at Angela during high school as a Christian service project. His touching and heartwarming stories of his interaction with patients resonated with her. With her sons all in college and now empty-nested, she decided to volunteer at Angela. 

Mary Anne loves to cook and work with food, so her volunteer mentor asked if she'd like to assist at the weekly formal High Tea in the Care Center. She enjoyed serving tea sandwiches and luscious desserts on fine china to patients and their families.

During one of the Teas, a female patient who had chosen to no longer undergo chemotherapy, and just finish out her life in peace, told Mary Anne: "This is my first step towards Heaven." That was how much she enjoyed the lovely Teas  and ambiance. At that moment, Mary Anne was hooked in her volunteering. The women's remark "actually gave me goosebumps," she said. Mary Anne was humbled that such a seemingly small effort on her part meant so much in the life of a dying woman.

Mary Anne also helps out with the hospitality cart, filled with candies and treats that she takes into patients’ rooms. One male patient was thrilled to see her and opened a drawer to reveal a mound of candy stashed there. "It made him so happy," said Mary Anne. She continues to provide food and comfort by cooking and serving a monthly meal in the Care Center kitchen to families, baking treats, and serving food at the annual Walk of Remembrance.

During the holiday season, Mary Anne was volunteering at Angela Hospice’s Tree of Life fundraiser. A young man and his small daughter stopped by and asked her if they could retrieve the angel ornament they had hung on one of the Christmas trees. They explained they wanted to take it home to hang on their tree on Christmas Eve so "their loved one would be close by." Mary Anne literally was brought to tears by such a heartfelt remark and knew that this was volunteer reward beyond measure.

In the past year, Mary Anne had the opportunity to have her father in the Care Center. It gave her a very personal insight into "both sides" of being a volunteer, making her even more aware of its value. With all energies focused on her ill father, a very sensitive staff member took Mary Anne’s mother aside and spent considerable time talking with her -- something her mother desperately needed. "That meant the world to me, and especially my mother," Mary Anne recalls. And even after her father's passing, the staff member still continues to ask, "how is your Mother doing?”

Upon her father's arrival at the Care Center, he remarked "this doesn't look like a hospital. My family must love me so much to put me in such a beautiful place." Mary Anne said she was so glad her father had the experience of being at Angela Hospice.

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