Once a month, Connie Lacaillade meets with a handful of friends
by the gift shop in the Dana building lobby. They fill two carts
with 100 brightly colored goodie bags and wheel the parcels of
cheer through elevators and corridors to Brigham and Women's
Hospital. There, they deliver them to DFCI patients on the fifth
and sixth floors.
The Friends of Dana-Farber started this kind act in the days
when the Institute had inpatient beds, with small favors placed on
patients' trays during major holidays. When the beds moved to BWH
in the mid-1990s, the project ended. Lacaillade, a Friends' member,
learned of the original gesture and was inspired to launch a
similar, but larger, effort in the fall of 2002. She is now joined
by the project's co-chair, Lauren Frei.
Although the contents of the gift bags vary somewhat from month
to month, a typical selection might include a deck of cards, a tin
of hard candy, hand cream, a crossword puzzle book, and a seasonal
favor (last month, a floral notepad and matching pen; this month, a
ceramic flowerpot and packet of seeds), and a book. They alternate Surviving Cancer, by the late DFCI
patient Margie Levine, with a different inspirational volume on
hope or courage every other month.
The Friends fund the endeavor, and the women who volunteered for
April's distribution all agreed the cost of each bag is "money well
spent," considering the happiness it brings.
"This project helps us remember our mission - reaching out to
our patients and their families," says Lacaillade. "We [the
Friends] host many fundraisers throughout the year, but I feel it
is the human contact with our patients that reminds us why we are
all so committed to this important volunteer work in the first
This is one of many "bag" efforts under way for patients and
family members at Dana-Farber, organized by the Friends, other
volunteer groups, or through Institute programs.
As DFCI is short on storage space, Friends' members put the bags
together at home and bring them in by car. Delivery times rotate in
order to brighten the day for as many people as possible. On one
recent visit, three women were spreading the joy along with
Lacaillade and Frei: Cheryl Eckel, Marcia Gorgone, and Joanne
Marshall. The volunteers are careful to use antibacterial gel on
their hands and to don masks and gloves when giving out the gifts.
For safety reasons, deliveries are made by nurses on units where
patients have lowered immune systems.
Each bag-bearer takes a few moments to chat with recipients, and
Marshall is usually the last one to finish. Although they all have
kind words to offer, fellow deliverers call her a "natural." A
nine-year survivor of ovarian cancer, she leaves behind an
additional gift: hope.
After making the rounds at Brigham and Women's, the group heads
to DFCI infusion rooms or to the waiting room in the Gillette
Center for Women's Cancers on Dana 9. No matter what surprises
their bags hold in any given month, patients are delighted to see
the Friends and the crisp crepe-paper-wrapped presents.
Eckel, who used to volunteer with another organization, feels
the hours spent at the Institute with patients make more of a
"They are always appreciative," says Frei (daughter-in-law of
DFCI Physician-in-Chief Emeritus Emil Frei, MD). "We receive
grateful smiles from the patients and from the nursing staff,
This story first appeared in the May 11, 2004 issue of Inside the Institute.
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