Hospice Is Hope: 2020 ends with gifts of love and kindness

By Lin Sue Cooney
Hospice of the Valley

The most magical thing about the holidays is the way we so joyfully give to others. Not just our friends and families—but to complete strangers who are in need. At Hospice of the Valley, we look forward to some annual traditions that remind us how blessed we are to be able to bless others.

Rewind to November when the spirit of giving first started to blossom. Families suffering hardship because of COVID-19 were finding it hard to put a holiday meal on the table. Our teams identified 54 patients and families in need. Hospice of the Valley purchased turkey dinners with all the trimmings from Boston Market. And our amazing staff and volunteers showed up on Thanksgiving Day to deliver each and every one of them with a big smile and a full heart. They drove all over—from San Tan Valley to Avondale, Cave Creek and Surprise—to truly make it a day of thanks and giving.

A hundred more families enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast, thanks to Amber Kovarik. Hospice of the Valley cared for her sister, Shannon, who succumbed to cancer at our Dobson Home in 2017. After her death at age 32, Shannon’s Giving was born—a foundation dedicated to helping patients and families who recently lost a loved one to cancer or have someone so sick that the thought of putting on a Thanksgiving dinner is completely overwhelming. In the past four years, Amber has donated hundreds of Thanksgiving meals—she says it’s a gift of gratitude in memory of her sister.

“I know how tough life can be when you have a loved one in hospice. My hope with Shannon’s Giving is to shed some light on a dark time,” says Kovarik, a branch manager and loan officer for Guild Mortgage in Chandler.

On Thanksgiving eve, nearly 100 Thanksgiving meals from a Whole Foods store in Chandler went to families under Hospice of the Valley care in Maricopa and Pinal counties, and to three inpatient care homes—Dobson Home in Mesa, Lund Home in Gilbert and Eckstein Center in Scottsdale.

“It is such an honor to be able to do this,” Kovarik said. “It is so important for me to give back, because Hospice of the Valley gave us so much. The passing of my sister was the hardest and most emotional experience of my life. The way our caregivers handled this extremely trying time was incredible—they felt like family to us.”

Hospice of the Valley staff helped make the deliveries. So did Amber’s father, who flew in from Florida, as well as Amber’s husband and enthusiastic daughters, 7-year-old Tatum and 5-year-old Jade.

Another sweet tradition that inspires our entire staff to open their hearts happens at Christmastime. For 21 years, our care teams have “adopted” families who could use some holiday cheer. These are vulnerable families experiencing the stress of terminal illness coupled with financial constraints. We are so honored to make them feel loved and supported, and to ensure that everyone—especially children—will have presents to open on Christmas morning.

Since our Adopt-a-Family for the Holidays program began, we’ve “played Santa” to over 1,100 families, including 2,200 children—adding a few more this year because of the pandemic.

Some of the items provided are necessities—food boxes; a twin mattress with all the bedding; help for a family with four children who had been homeless; utility payments for two families; an auto insurance premium for a patient still able to drive; rent for the month. Other are gifts that surprise and delight—bicycles; a decorated Christmas tree, stuffed bears (donated by a florist); gift cards from the Phoenix Police Department; presents for a family of 10 living in a trailer; and gifts for a 14-year-old Kenyan refugee who is her mother’s primary caregiver.

“There are no words to describe the joy and satisfaction each of us receive in giving to these families,” says Mara Goebel, Hospice of the Valley’s bereavement manager. “It’s our way of enfolding them in a warm, caring embrace.”

This year was certainly a challenging year for all of us, but it didn’t depart without revealing a silver lining. We learned that generosity and gratitude can flourish in any circumstance, obstacles can be overcome, and a new year awaits with good things to come.