Hospice volunteers' acts of kindness take the cake
Share with others:
Ed Washburn was sitting in his doctor's office, waiting for a regular checkup when he saw a sign asking for volunteers to assist at Excela Health Hospice.
"At the time, I thought I needed to expand my effort to serve others more," said Mr. Washburn, of Delmont. "I didn't want to take the easiest thing I could find. This seemed like it would be a challenge."
But his visits to the terminally ill in Westmoreland County quickly became something other than a challenge.
"It was a blessing, not a challenge at all," he said.
After a visit to a hospice patient who had a birthday coming up, Mr. Washburn had an idea.
"Here we are, visiting all these folks and it is most probably their last birthday," Mr. Washburn said. "And I thought, wouldn't it be cool if we could get them birthday cakes?"
He approached Nancy Gombos, an avid cake-baker and a friend from Community United Methodist Church in the Harrison City section of Penn Township. She loved the idea.
But first they had to get approval from the hospice.
"They approached me and asked if we could do this, and we pretty much believe that if it's anything positive for a patient and their family, we should try it," said Joan Roth, who oversees about 60 volunteers as coordinator of volunteer services at Excela Health Hospice. "And it has become a happy time for patients and a special time for families -- which is what hospice is all about."
Ms. Roth said some families have created festive celebrations of life around the delivery of cake by Ms. Gombos and Mr. Washburn.
Other times, it is a somber observance of a life about to end.
"But every single one has been met with overwhelming support and success," Ms. Roth said. "And my staff and I know this because of the cards and thanks and stories of gratefulness that we get in return."
Ms. Gombos and Mr. Washburn say their love for God motivates them to serve others, but the blessings they reap in return outweigh any effort they put into the baking and delivery of cakes.
"You leave feeling wonderful," said Ms. Gombos, who lives in the Irwin area and occasionally goes on the deliveries. She said delivering a cake to a patient always leaves her "feeling lifted. You go in thinking you will help them feel better, but you are the one who ends up leaving feeling better."
She said families appear to appreciate the gesture.
"They see us coming in, not knowing their family member, but taking time out of our day to bring a smile to their faces," Ms. Gombos said. "Our tally is up around 80 cakes now. I never thought it would get this big, but I love it."
Through the deliveries, Mr. Washburn has learned that every family handles birthdays differently.
He recalled having some apprehension as he approached the first hospice patient's house with a birthday cake in hand in May 2011.
He had contacted the family beforehand -- a standard procedure that "99.9 percent" of the families agree to -- but the patient didn't know about it because he was in and out of consciousness.
"It turned out to be a fabulous party of this man's life," Mr. Washburn said. "He was lying in bed and whether he heard us or not, it didn't matter. It was a special time for his family."
And while Mr. Washburn is the first to admit embarrassment at the attention his idea has gotten -- including a story in a hospice newsletter -- he is thankful that others are joining the effort.
"In church, a 12-year-old girl and her mother came up and asked if we could use homemade birthday cards," Mr. Washburn said, noting that they had heard about the birthday cakes he was delivering. "And they asked if they could do that. All I could think was, 'Wow, instead of me buying birthday cards, now our patients will get a homemade birthday card made by a little girl who was somehow called to do that.' You really do get more than you give."
Excela Health Hospice is always looking for volunteers. Details: Joan Roth, 724-689-1653.
First Published August 16, 2012 4:57 am