Gift of Life Donor Program and MTF Biologics have partnered together for more than 20 years to bring the gift of life-changing tissues to patients throughout the U.S. and beyond. Now, MTF Biologics is spending time in the Howie’s House kitchen preparing meals for transplant families as part of our Home Cook Heroes program.
“The Howie’s House is one of the best ideas Howard Nathan has ever had,” says Martha Anderson, Executive Vice President of Donor Services at MTF Biologics. She has served on the Gift of Life Donor Program governing board for many years and supported the Howie’s House from its conception. MTF Biologics has underwritten the Howie’s House’s 4th Floor Lounge, and supported its annual Kidney Open Golf Outing and Donor Dash.
Martha recently brought her executive team to visit the Howie’s House and they decided they wanted to get more involved. “It’s also an amazing place for our staff to give back, learn about donation, and continue supporting Gift of Life,” Martha explains. “We also really want to get a plate on the wall!”
The plates on the wall in our kitchen celebrate our Home Cook Heroes All-Stars, groups who volunteer at least 12 times a year (typically about once a month) to help take care of our families.
“The Howie’s House is an amazing home away from home for transplant patients and families. The staff is committed to doing everything they can to take care of them,” Martha says. “Everyone from MTF Biologics who comes down to cook loves it, feels humbled, and appreciates the opportunity to give back.”
Not only does MTF Biologics come in to cook, but sometimes, they provide entertainment as well! MTF Biologic’s resident band, The Bone Tones, led by President and CEO Joe Yaccarino, came to perform during dinner one night and was invited back to play at the Howie’s House’s annual President’s Reception.
“They were really happy to come to the Howie’s House and play,” Martha says.
MTF Biologics is well on their way to joining our Home Cook Heroes All-Stars with a plate of their own on the wall. They’ve already come in 10 times this year and have prepared Mexican and Italian dinners as well as baked goods and brunch. We are so thankful for their commitment to our mission and look forward to see what they whip up next!
Many of you may remember Matthew Brown, also known as “Mattman,” who stayed at the Howie’s House with his mother, Kelly, back in 2014. He received his precious gift of life—a life-saving heart transplant—at just five years old. Now Matthew is a bright, happy nine year old boy in the fourth grade, and we are so happy to let you know that he is doing very well!
Before Matthew Brown was five years old, he’d had four heart surgeries. He was born with a defect that was weakening his heart. The day after Christmas in 2013, he was medevacked from his local hospital to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and listed for a transplant.
“I really had no idea how long we’d be away from home,” Kelly explains. Thankfully, Matthew received his transplant on June 25th, 2014 and was able to stay at Gift of Life Howie’s House with her as he recovered.
Kelly and Matthew stayed in Philadelphia for 8 months—from the day Matthew was flown to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to the day his doctors told them it was OK to go home.
During his stay, Matthew was also featured in our 2014 holiday campaign, using his brave transplant journey to help support other families like his.
Four years later, Matthew and Kelly still return to the House every three months for his follow-up appointments.
Matthew says he loves coming back to the Howie’s House because it’s “nice and comfortable and the food is tasty!” Last time he and Kelly were here, they enjoyed a delicious “Philly-style” dinner—cheesesteaks and corn dogs—prepared by our volunteers.
He also loves running into Ms. Diana at the Front Desk. They always have a staring contest and a thumb war. He’s a lot bigger now than he was when he first stayed here, but Ms. Diana can still beat him from time to time.
Matthew is a happy, healthy 4th grader now. His favorite subjects are math and history, and he still hasn’t decided what he wants to be when he grows up. He loves playing video games on the tablet and on his computer, and spending time with his family.
Matthew and his family are just one example of the hundreds that come to the Howie’s House each year navigating the difficult transplant journey.
“The Howie’s House really supported us throughout our journey,” Kelly says. “It was nice to meet families going through similar challenges. It really made me feel so much better.”
It was because of our generous community that Matthew and his mom were able to stay together and had a safe place to return as they adjusted to Matthew’s second chance at life.
Each year, families like Matthew and Kelly’s come to the Howie’s House for support as they navigate the difficult transplant journey, and it is because of people like you that we are able to be their “home away from home.”
We are so proud to have helped a brave boy like Matthew and a strong mother like Kelly, and we look forward to serving other transplant families coming to Philadelphia with you by our sides.
In August of 2014, Carol McCloud’s son, Ryan, became an organ donor. At 20 years old, Ryan saved four lives. Until her son’s passing, Carol and her family didn’t know much about donation, but she says it’s been a blessing to her and her family, helping them get through her son’s sudden passing.
The McCloud’s are residents of Fishtown, a neighborhood just north of Gift of Life Donor Program and the Howie’s House, so it was easy for Carol to begin volunteering with our organization. She began with the Donor Dash, and soon after, she visited the Gift of Life website to learn about other volunteer opportunities. Carol also noticed signs on the highway for the Howie’s House.
After some thought, she and her family decided that on the first anniversary of her son’s passing, they’d do a food drive for the Howie’s House. They’ve been doing one ever since.
The McCloud family fills up their entire minivan with food and other household supplies for guests here at the Howie’s House. Family, friends, and small businesses in the neighborhood like grocery stores and restaurants all contribute; relatives and friends also advertise at work. “A big chain of people have made this drive so successful,” Carol says.
The before and after care transplant patients and their families receive at the Howie’s House motivates Carol to keep giving. “Being able to help others the way people helped my son is important to me,” she says. “Volunteering and spending time at the Howie’s House allows me to see first-hand what they do for families and allows me to celebrate my son and spread his story.”
Carol and her family also volunteer as Home Cook Heroes on or around Ryan’s birthday.
Thank you, McCloud family, for selflessly supporting our mission and transplant families!
The ladies of Rutgers Gang have kept their college friendships especially strong. They began volunteering as Home Cook Heroes when the Howie’s House opened in 2011, and have continued their commitment to serving transplant families in honor of a member whose relative passed after while waiting for a multi-organ transplant and another whose daughter received two kidney transplants.
At least once a month, these women come together not only to catch up, but to prepare and serve a warm meal for our guests. “Some people don’t realize the stress on caretakers is very hard,” Barbara, one of the members, says. “It’s good to sit down, relax, and enjoy something other than a boxed meal.”
For one of their first meals, they prepared a big lasagna dinner. However, when they found out most other Home Cook Heroes groups were serving Italian-style meals, they started to change things up. Since then, they’ve served breakfast for dinner, Mexican meals, and have even barbequed outside.
“We’ve got our routine down to a science,” Barbara says.
After they finish cooking, the ladies will often go out to dinner themselves, bringing their husbands and boyfriends along with them.
“It’s fun to get together with my friends,” Barbara says. “It’s also fun to do something for others. We all love cooking and it’s something we can all do. The Howie’s House is so life-changing. It feels like home.”
We’re so grateful these women have found a home here at the Howie’s House and that by volunteering with us, they’re honoring important people in their lives.
We’ll see you next time, Rutgers Gang!
“My experience at Gift of Life Howie’s House is inexpressible.
I spent 42 nights there while my husband was in the hospital. The Howie’s House is a home. When visiting my husband daily at the hospital, I would find myself telling him what time I would be going “home” that day.
When I did arrive home, I was always greeted by the smiling faces of the dedicated staff and the aromas of a home cooked meal. The rides to and from the Howie’s House were another gift. The volunteers, many of them transplant recipients, were a source of support because they knew exactly what I was experiencing. Of course, there was also a tremendous connection that developed among the guests.
Although everyone had a different story, and we were all on different steps of the journey, it was such a comfort to share my day with people who were walking the same walk as I was.”
–Judy, past family House Guest
“The Home Cook Heroes program gives us the opportunity to connect directly with the people we help serve – in real time. Every time we’ve been there, the guests – and staff – have been so grateful for what we do.” – Greg Dommel, Voya Financial
As the clock approaches 6 o’clock, inviting aromas of roasted pork tenderloin, breaded tilapia and berry cobbler beckon guests into the dining room. Even after three main courses, lots of sides and plenty of desserts, there are rarely any leftovers from this particular group’s Home Cook Hero meal!
Since its inception, the Voya Financial team has been nothing but committed. Greg Dommel, their team leader, created the Home Cook Heroes program through his company. Like many employers, Voya Financial strongly encourages staff to get involved in the community, offering incentives to encourage them to take advantage of volunteer opportunities, including 40 hours of paid time each year to volunteer.
The Voya Community Partners initiative presents several opportunities to get involved throughout the year. All opportunities are selected by employee nominations in an effort to interact with organizations and causes important to its employees. Because Gift of Life Howie’s House was near and dear to Greg’s heart, he has been ensuring his company’s involvement in our programs since 2011, when the Howie’s House first opened.
Greg has a close personal connection transplantation, as one of his own family members needed a heart transplant in the early 2000s. He mentioned commuting back and forth from Lancaster to the Philadelphia area for transplant care was a strain on his family. He understands the important need of the Howie’s House and is thankful that families traveling g to Philadelphia for transplant care nowadays have a warm and inviting place to stay.
When the opportunity arose, there was no question in Greg’s mind about where he wanted to direct his time in volunteering. He quickly formed the Voya Financials Home Cook Hero team and was excited to hit the kitchen.
The team’s natural talent to “rebrand” has not gone unnoticed by Howie’s House guests and staff! Greg recalls one day the team was scheduled to volunteer at the Howie’s House, “Mark and I finished off our grocery shopping with a diverse range of desserts including a Mixed Berry Pie with Lattice Top. During the car ride from West Chester to the Howie’s House, contents shifted. When we unpacked our groceries, the pie was still sealed and fresh – but was no longer anything close to being pie-shaped.” Being fast on his feet and thinking with marketing savvy, Mark took the object formerly known as a pie and placed it in a slow cooker. “Just like that, our pie was rebranded as ‘Mixed Berry Cobbler.’ Interestingly, our ‘cobbler’ was one of the most popular items that night!”
Volunteering at the Howie’s House means a lot to the entire Voya Financials team, even beyond having a personal connection to transplant. “It gives us the opportunity to connect directly with the people we help serve – in real time. Every time we’ve been there, the guests – and staff – have been so grateful for what we do.”
For other corporate companies looking to start a team, figuring out where to start can be a challenge. Greg sheds some light on the issue: “I quickly learned to surround myself with people who enjoy cooking. Initially, most of our Home Cook Heroes team came from my Marketing group, but soon expanded to other departments. We have a revolving door of frequent volunteer cooks, but our lead chef, Mark Siciliano, helps coordinate the planning and execution of our meals.”
The Home Cook Heroes program offers a unique and engaging opportunity to get involved in both the local and the transplant community. It provides a chance to engage directly with the people you are helping. Working with your coworkers, family, friends or classmates, groups of up to 10 people can prepare meals (on or off site) and serve them to our guests. Just bring yourself and your food and we will provide everything else in our modern, fully-equipped kitchen. For more information about the Home Cook Heroes program or to sign up, please click here.
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