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Giving Has No Boundaries

Each year, BJC and its employees support dozens of causes, many of them near and dear to the heart for employees and their loved ones. Here is an example of that support.

BJC laboratory medical director Rhonda Cooke, MD, knows firsthand that giving has no boundaries.

After Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southern Texas on August 25, causing massive flooding and devastation, Dr. Cooke, who’s originally from the Houston area, knew she had to help. 

Although she lost her mom in 2015, her dad still lives in southeast Texas and was fine. But, Dr. Cooke says, the need there was great. Less than one week after the hurricane struck, she was on her way.

Dr. Cooke, who practices at Parkway Pathology on the campus of Missouri Baptist Medical Center, is the laboratory medical director at MBMC, Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, Progress West Hospital and Missouri Baptist Sullivan Hospital. 

When her lab colleagues heard that Dr. Cooke was heading to Texas, they pitched in and donated supplies for her to take along. The airline she flew also contributed to the cause. “Southwest Airlines waived the extra baggage fees for four extra-large suitcases, which allowed me to bring an additional 200 pounds of supplies with me,” Dr. Cooke says.

Those supplies included a circular saw, large tarps, carpet knives, mosquito spray, nitrile gloves, face masks, diapers, baby wipes, baby formula, assorted paper products and more.

“When I arrived in Austin, Texas, I rented a big Ford quad-cab truck in which to load the donations and carry them into the flooded area. In Bastrop, Texas, I bought out the supply of multi-pack diapers at the Wal-Mart there and donated them to a church bringing donations into the hardest hit areas. The church members accepting donations were overwhelmed with gratitude at the generosity of our donations. I was able to fill multiple boxes with diapers, baby wipes, baby formula and Pedialyte, and also donate cash to provide meals for evacuees and first responders.”

Through a relative’s church, Dr. Cooke also learned of a family that she and her lab colleagues would end up helping.

“My aunt’s church in Liberty, Texas, North Main Church, was being used as a Red Cross shelter for evacuees, since the church’s gymnasium has showers. Many of the other shelter locations didn’t have such amenities, so as other shelters closed their doors, evacuees were transferred to North Main Church.”

Church member Rhonda Robinson knew of a family who had lost everything in the hurricane, including their car and home in Dayton, Texas. The family’s father, Curtis Owens, was looking for work to provide for mother Memorie; 12-year-old daughter, Emily (aka Emma); 10-month-old son, Curtis Jr.; and 4-week-old daughter, Raelynn. 

“I sent a monetary donation and then spoke with Rhonda about the family, and she shared their needs with me,” Dr. Cooke says. “I had been driving my mom’s car since her death in 2015. I was having a hard time letting go of it, but this seemed like the right opportunity. 
“When my lab colleagues heard that I was giving the car away, they insisted on filling it with things the family needed — and an idea was born. They bought new car seats, a new double stroller, and donated clothing, toys, shoes, housewares — literally everything a household requires,” Dr. Cooke says. 

A couple of weeks after Dr. Cooke’s trip to Texas, she flew Owens to St. Louis to pick up the car and he drove it back to Texas.

“It was a wonderful feeling to see him, overcome with emotion, standing next to a car jam-packed with generous donations,” Dr. Cooke says. “We had planned for him to stay overnight and get a fresh start the following morning, but he couldn’t wait to get home and show his family all we had collected. I know my mom would have been so happy to know that her car went to a family in need. My mom grew up in a family with limited means. Her father died when she was very young, and she and her sister were raised by a single mother, so she knew need firsthand.

“She was my inspiration for this gift — my mom and dad previously gave away at least three other cars over the years to others in need. She was a wonderfully generous woman and could never walk away from anyone she saw who needed a helping hand. I’ll always feel that she was watching down from heaven and guiding me.”

Dr. Cooke has always wanted to help people, and becoming a physician was one way to fulfill that desire. Seeing patients is a small part of what she does at BJC, and Dr. Cooke also serves on dozens of hospital committees and clinical expert councils — and truly enjoys her work, as well as her colleagues. “I love the people I work with and find them to be amazingly capable and generous,” she says. “They make it a joy to come to work each day.”

And during a time of tremendous need, those same people went out of their way to make a difference, Dr. Cooke says. “What amazes me is that the people I work with were able to put things together so quickly, both times in less than a week,” she says. “It was through the hard work and coordination of laboratory managers Cindy Kling (MBMC), Karla Eckhart (BJSPH), Marnell Dickson (PWH) and Cherie Monzyk (MBSH) that the donations were able to be collected so quickly. So many laboratory staff participated that it would be impossible to name them all!"

“No matter how great the disaster, you can make a difference,” Dr. Cooke adds. “Your individual contribution may seem like a drop in the bucket, but when we all contribute, it adds up.”

 

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