Volunteers find home at the hospitalWhether you’re looking for a cup of coffee, directions, a snack or a special gift, the members of the Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital Auxiliary have what you need. Through a myriad of services, the volunteers brighten the hospital halls while earning money for scholarships and other programs. And they do it with a smile.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Whether you’re looking for a cup of coffee, directions, a snack or a special gift, the members of the Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital Auxiliary have what you need. Through a myriad of services, the volunteers brighten the hospital halls while earning money for scholarships and other programs. And they do it with a smile.
“It’s a community that’s very close-knit and very supportive of the greater community,” said interim volunteer director Joy Miller. “I will say they get a lot done … for this hospital.” The group has 106 active volunteers, but more are needed.
“In any given month an average of 1,800 plus hours are given by some 80-plus volunteers, with great pride and dedication from each and every one of them,” said Mary Lou Monson, auxiliary secretary. RSVP participants can also get credit for hours volunteering with the auxiliary.
To many, the group is like a second family.
“I love it,” said Beverly Shafer, co-president, who has been volunteering for 20 years. “It’s so friendly and so nice. We all know each other and take care of each other.”
There is special camaraderie between volunteers and hospital staff, said co-president Pauline Kukull. At a recent auxiliary bake sale, many staff members donated baked goods; they stopped later to buy goodies.
The auxiliary is open and welcoming to newcomers.
“This is my second home,” said Mary Berg, who joined the group a year ago. “Anybody who’s thinking about volunteering should call. It is a wonderful place.”
Larry McDonald of Superior said he started volunteering last year to “fill a void in my life.” He learned the hospital needed volunteers, and he wanted to give back to the community. So he spends his Monday mornings at the information desk.
“I think people just need that, when they come through the door, a friendly smile, a friendly greeting,” McDonald said.
In return, he sees a lot of familiar faces. Peggy Warring, manages the Koffee Knook, and enjoys that part of the job.
“You see people you haven’t seen in a long time, people from your past, people from your kids’ past,” she said.
The Koffee Knook on the main floor provides everything from coffee, pop, cappuccino and tea to crackers, cookies, baked goods, sandwiches and the sunrise muffin breakfast sandwich.
“We fill a really good nook for people in the hospital and I find it so rewarding,” Warring said.
The volunteer-run shop, which is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., orders local products whenever possible, including Arco coffee from Superior, donuts from Johnson Bakery in Duluth and different flavors of Earl’s Popcorn from Savage, Minn.
Dr. Sarojini Sharma stops by the coffee shop every day for breakfast — usually a toasted bagel with cream cheese or English muffin. Often, she’ll call in the order before stopping by.
“I love this place, love, love, love it,” she said. Sharma’s always rushing to get to work in the morning, so a bite from the Koffee Knook starts her day on a good note, she said.
The auxiliary offers many volunteer options.
“It’s so simple to walk in, fill out an application and pick what you’d like to do,” Berg said. “If you don’t like what you’re doing, you can pick something else.”
Kukull, who manages the lobby gift shop, has been volunteering at the Superior hospital for 20 years. Prior to that, she worked at Edelstein’s, so the gift shop was a good fit.
“It’s just been very natural to me,” she said. “I worked in the trade for 21 years.” Sometimes it’s hard figuring out which gift trends will be a hit and which won’t, but Kukull enjoys the challenge. She often takes her volunteer work with her, perusing catalogs at home.
Carol Kittleson prefers to wheel the coffee cart to the various waiting rooms, serving coffee, cookies and a smile. She enjoys visiting with the people.
“It’s my therapy and it doesn’t cost a dime,” Kittleson said.
Auxiliary members make fleece lap blankets for every patient who is admitted. Through the Tele-care program, volunteers give daily calls to people who request them — often people living alone. Anyone can sign up for the daily calls, said Ruby Thomas, news editor for the auxiliary.
“We have a nice man in Poplar who just wants to talk,” Shafer said.
The group also sets up a number of fundraisers — from their book and popcorn sale to the spring salad bar luncheon and fashion show.
“There’s a lot of value to our auxiliary,” Miller said. Both in event planning, scheduling and services provided. The volunteer group has handed out more than $20,000 since July, including 12 $500 scholarships.
For more information or to join the Tele-Care program, call (715) 817-7543. Applications may also be picked up at the volunteer office in the lower level of the hospital, 3500 Tower Ave.