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Annual intergenerational Thanksgiving project delivered 570 dinners to Samaritan hospice patients & families

Seventeen years ago, a group of teen volunteers conceived an idea they called Giving Thanks, Preserving Memories that has become a cherished annual tradition for the community served by Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, southern New Jersey’s first and largest hospice.

Every year since, the Saturday before Thanksgiving has become “delivery day” when volunteer drivers pick up baskets brimming with food, fixins,’ and love for delivery to patients and families throughout Samaritan’s 2,200 square- mile-service area.

Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice’s SamariTeen volunteers helped organize this year’s event on Saturday, November 18 at the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia/Cherry Hill. By day’s end, 39 volunteer drivers had picked up 136 baskets containing 570 meals from the hotel’s loading dock to deliver to Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice patients and their families, including patients and families at Samaritan’s two inpatient hospice centers in Voorhees and Mt. Holly.

The baskets, colorfully draped by table runners sewn by area volunteers, included: turkey dinners provided by the culinary team of the Crowne Plaza, pies, placemats, and sparkling cider. Crafted table decorations created by the SamariTeens, area Brownie troops, school groups, and community volunteers, added whimsical charm. These baskets – true labors of love – allow families to enjoy their precious time together without the worry of preparing a traditional holiday meal, explains Sally Cezo, Samaritan’s director of volunteer services.

This year’s project was made possible through the support of Neil Dinsfriend, Crowne Plaza director of catering and conference services,  and his staff, and the following community donors: Church & Dwight Co. Inc., John and Kate Gillespie, and Moorestown Rotary Charities.

“This project is a beautiful gift to our families – a lovely way to brighten their holidays,” explains Cezo. “It remains a truly inter-generational event with small children helping their parents and grandparents to make deliveries, teens helping to fill the baskets and carry them out to drivers’ cars, and adults of all ages volunteering their time.”

First-time participant Dinsfriend shared how Samaritan had cared for his dad about 14 years ago and been there for his family. He understands that many people caring for a loved one might not have the time or energy to cook a holiday meal.  “When I heard about this project,” he said, “I told my GM Ehab Mehany that we just have to do this. It’s a way to give back.”

The Link family appreciated the communal effort.  Charlie Link, almost 93 years old and caring for his wife Doris, 90, beamed as he opened the door to accept the basket from Doreen Jeitner, a Samaritan hospice nurse. Jeitner volunteered to deliver baskets with her six-year-old grandson Danny. As Charlie and his son Charles happily checked out the basket’s contents, he said, “I will be thinking of all of you with great gratitude as we enjoy this food.” He added, “I can’t thank Samaritan enough for helping me keep a 68-year wedding vow to take care of my wife at home.”

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