Home Cook Heroes

Since we opened our doors, Organ Recovery Systems (ORS) has been a proud supporter of the Howie’s House and has helped us care for transplant families in many ways!

“Supporting the transplant community is something I personally take to heart, and Gift of Life Howie’s House goes above and beyond by offering a comfortable and intimate residence for transplant patients and their families,” says Matthew Copithorne, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at ORS.

In 2011, ORS made a generous financial commitment to our mission by underwriting our kitchen – a capital campaign gift that helped us welcome transplant families home. Since then, many of their staff members have volunteered in our Home Cook Heroes Program to prepare home-cooked meals for our guests. ORS also generously supports our annual Kidney Open Golf Outing, which raises funds for our Adopt-A-Family Program.

More recently, they found another way to help by sending a generous donation of hand sanitizer!

“Partnering with Gift of Life Howie’s House has been so rewarding to us, and years later our team still counts down the days until we can visit with and cook for recipients and their families,” says Kayla Andalina, Marketing Manager.

ORS was founded on a passion to help improve patient outcomes in transplantation and honor the gift of life. Their support of the Howie’s House helps provide transplant patients and their family members with a place to call home while far from their own. We are so thankful for their partnership and look forward to serving transplant families with them in the future!

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows New Jersey (IOOFNJ) has been a longtime supporter of the Howie’s House mission.

IOOFNJ generously committed to a multi-year sponsorship of the Howie’s House’s shuttle program

Former grandmaster, late heart transplant recipient and wonderful friend Harold Delhagen connected our two missions many years ago, and since, IOOFNJ has made a real difference in the lives of transplant families.

They supported our initial capital campaign to help build the Howie’s House and open our doors by underwriting one of our guest rooms. They’ve helped transplant families who couldn’t afford our nightly fee with a contribution to our Adopt-A-Family program. Additionally, IOOFNJ has volunteered on many occasions in our kitchen to provide warm, home-cooked meals to our guests in the evenings as part of our Home Cook Heroes program.

Most recently, they generously committed to a multi-year sponsorship of our shuttle program to help bring transplant patients and their family members back and forth from Philadelphia hospitals and the Howie’s House.

This contribution to our mission helps provide a much-needed service to our guests so they don’t have to navigate an unfamiliar city alone or pay expensive parking fees while caring for a loved one undergoing the transplant process.

Our shuttle helps bring guests back and forth from Philadelphia’s transplant centers and the Howie’s House

In 2019 alone, their support helped us travel over 16,000 miles to provide more than 1,100 trips to and from Philadelphia hospitals and the Howie’s House!

IOOFNJ is an organization based on the foundations of Friendship, Love and Truth, and seeks to make our world a better one to live in through charitable work on various projects in their community.

We are so grateful for their support and look forward to serving transplant families with them in the future!

Theresa had considered herself knowledgeable about organ and tissue donation after seeing how it worked as a respiratory therapist, but when her co-worker’s granddaughter passed away and became an organ donor, she was inspired to learn more about the process.

Shea sitting by the pier
Shea became an organ donor when she passed away

After learning about the Howie’s House through a Gift of Life presentation, she and her family held a fundraiser to support our mission to care for transplant families. They also signed up to participate in our Home Cook Heroes program under the team name “Team Shea” as a tribute to her co-worker’s granddaughter.

“We had such a great time cooking meals for these families…and we’ve been volunteering ever since!” Theresa says.

Since her team’s initial visit in 2017, they’ve been back several times and have earned an All-Stars a plate on our wall.

Joining Theresa in our kitchen are her children and her grandkids. They prepare comforting meals like shepherd’s pie and meatballs and ziti. Sometimes they serve fun, interactive meals like “Walk-Around Tacos” where guests can create their own taco salads in a Frito’s bag.

Along with dinner, Team Shea brings games and gives guests a chance to win items like puzzle books, decks of cards, paperback books, or candy.

“We figured some of these items could make their time waiting a little easier,” Theresa adds. “No matter how bad a day they may have had, the Howie’s House guests are so nice and appreciative. It’s amazing.”

Team Shea also provides dessert!

“One time, a guest asked me if he could bring some extra cookies to his wife in the hospital to cheer her up,” Theresa says. “It amazed me that something Team Shea did—something so little—would make his wife’s time in the hospital a little bit better.”

Team Shea sitting in the Howie's House Adirondack chair
Theresa’s grandchildren often volunteer with her

Volunteers like Team Shea are such a vital part of our mission. Their hard work and dedication in our kitchen help us welcome transplant families home and lessen their burden of worrying about what to eat or where to get it after a long day.

Theresa hopes other people will become inspired to learn about the Howie’s House and its Home Cook Heroes program.

“People should go to the Howie’s House to see what it’s like and donate their time,” she says. “The staff tries so hard to make the guests feel as comfortable as possible. It’s even better than I imagined it to be.”

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.

The team at MTF Biologics loves volunteering to help care for our families

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.

Guests enjoying entertainment provided by MTF Biologics’ resident band, The Bone Tones

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!

On Friday, May 17, 2019 our colleagues from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital joined us at the Howie’s House for a special luncheon to celebrate an amazing milestone in our partnership—a $250,000 pledge from their hospital to support the Howie’s House mission. As part of this pledge, Jefferson Hospital underwrote our “Family Community Center” on the lower level of the Howie’s House, which includes our laundry and fitness facilities, salon, Volunteer Center, and Activity Center.

During the luncheon, special remarks were made by Richard Webster, President of Jefferson Hospital, Howard M. Nathan, Founder and President of Gift of Life Howie’s House, and Ed Carman, a liver and kidney recipient treated at Jefferson and former Howie’s House guest. Following the program was a ceremony to unveil the “Family Community Center” plaque in Jefferson’s name.

“Jefferson saved my life and I will always be thankful for that,” Ed said during the event. “While I was staying [at the hospital], my wife had a safe place here, and a caring place here. I didn’t have to worry about that for her. I knew she was OK.”

Jefferson was the first transplant center to financially support the Howie’s House. In their first pledge, they underwrote the Howie’s House’s dining area where families can meet and connect over their experiences while sharing a warm, home-cooked meal.

From left to right: Howard, Ed, Rich, and Gail

“I feel committed to the Howie’s House because I see the impact it has across the community,” said Mr. Webster. “We are so fortunate that it’s here for our patients.”

Mr. Webster, Ed, and his wife, Gail, were also presented with the Howie’s House challenge coin, which is a token of thanks given to members of our community who represent values we hold dear, including family, community, compassion, generosity, service, and commitment.

Through their compassion, commitment, generosity, and service to our mission, our colleagues at Jefferson Hospital have made incredible efforts to strengthen patients, families, and the transplant community. We are so thankful for their support!

After the event, Jefferson Hospital staff participated in a team-building baking competition in the Howie’s House kitchen as part of our Home Cook Heroes Program. We have had more Home Cook Hero volunteers from Jefferson Hospital than any other hospital in our region—just another way Jefferson demonstrates their loyalty and commitment to our mission.

We are so thankful for our partnership with them!

Anthony, right, with his father Joe, left

When Anthony Vetrano learned his father, Joe, would need a life-saving organ transplant, he and his mother, Teresa, became his caregivers. They both stayed at the Howie’s House for 11 days while Joe received his transplant in Philadelphia this past September.

“The Howie’s House allowed me and my mom to be close to the hospital and spend more time there with my father as he recovered from his transplant,” Anthony says. “We’d have to drive 100 miles back and forth from our homes in New Jersey if we didn’t have another place to stay.”

The Howie’s House supported Anthony and Teresa as caregivers while they supported Joe during his treatment and recovery. “As a caregiver, you focus on the patient and less on yourself,” Anthony says. “At the Howie’s House, there’s someone to focus on you.”

Anthony’s mother, Teresa, stayed with him at the Howie’s House while Joe received treatment in Philadelphia

Something that really supported Anthony was our Home Cook Heroes program, which offers a warm, home-cooked meal to guests each night as they wind down from what can be long, stressful days. “A meal was really nice to come back to,” Anthony says. “It was also nice to eat and talk with other families who understand what you’re going through.”

While Anthony was staying in Philadelphia, he had the idea to host a Facebook fundraiser to support the Howie’s House. “My Facebook friends know about my father’s transplant and I thought I could use my experience to help other families like ours,” Anthony says.

Because his birthday was coming up, Anthony decided to “give it up” and ask for donations to the Howie’s House in lieu of gifts.

Anthony hosted a fundraiser for two weeks and with the help of the people he loves, exceeded his fundraising goal!

“Some of my Facebook friends asked me what the fundraiser was about which even helped me raise awareness about organ and tissue donation,” Anthony says. “Not many people know about donation and transplant until they need one.”

It’s caring people like Anthony that help us continue to be a “home away from home” for transplant families coming to Philadelphia. His generous decision to “give up his birthday” on Facebook and raise money for the Howie’s House helps support families like his own as they navigate the difficult transplant journey.

“I would definitely host a Facebook fundraiser again…it was so easy!” Anthony says.

“It’s hard to go through something like transplant and not be changed by it. I want to help out as much as I can.”

Thank you, Anthony, for spreading our mission and supporting the Howie’s House!

Are you interested in “giving up your birthday” or hosting a Facebook fundraiser to support the Howie’s House like Anthony did? Learn how to here: http://bit.ly/fb-fundraiser-info

Something very special happened in the Howie’s House kitchen this summer.

Bryson and his family with Mason’s parents in the Howie’s House kitchen

Two families not only came together to cook a warm, home-cooked meal for our guests, but to also celebrate the life of toddler Mason Hess, an organ donor who saved four lives.

Mason Hess and his parents, Kellie and Adam

The two families were Mason’s own, and the family of the little boy who received Mason’s lungs, Bryson Palmer.

Bryson Palmer, the recipient of Mason’s lungs, celebrates Mason’s life

Kellie and Adam Hess regularly volunteer at the Howie’s House as Home Cook Heroes as a way to keep Mason’s memory alive. When Bryson Palmer and his family flew from their home in Ohio to visit the Hess’ in New Jersey, everyone thought it would be a great idea to cook a meal together at the Howie’s House. The only volunteer date available during their visit was Mason’s birthday.

“It was such a moving experience to cook with the family of one of Mason’s recipients and see how far both families have come,” Kellie says. “We are so happy that this wonderful little boy is healthy. We felt such a bond with him.”

Kellie Hess, Mason’s mother, hugs Bryson, the recipient of her son’s lungs

When Bryson was five months old, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer and received 18 months of treatment, including chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, radiation, and immuno-therapy. Unfortunately, he suffered a rare side effect—progressive scarring of the lungs—and required a double lung transplant. Bryson and his family traveled over 500 miles from Ohio to St. Louis, Missouri where he waited for 12 weeks in the PICU before he received his precious gift of life from Mason.

Bryson and his family traveled from Ohio to New Jersey to meet and say thank you to Mason’s family

It’s been six years since Bryson received his transplant and he has remained cancer free. He’s also the healthiest he’s ever been.

“It feels like Mason’s family and my family were meant to be in each other’s lives,” Katie, Bryson’s mother, says. “We at least hoped we’d be able to say thank you to the family who donated their loved one’s organs. We never expected to have such a close relationship, but now we’re all family.”

Bryson and Mason’s sister, Faith, pose with a photo of Mason

The Palmers’ stay as Home Cook Heroes was the first time they’d ever been to a Howie’s House-like facility. “During Bryson’s transplant journey, we traveled over 500 miles from home,” Katie says. “We were told we had to stay there but had nowhere to go. I slept in the hospital with Bryson and kept necessities in my car in the parking garage. My husband traveled back and forth from Ohio so he could continue working. We eventually did get an apartment, but there was no pantry, no meal offered every night, and we were completely on our own. It’s amazing that the Howie’s House is a place to call home for so many people.” While cooking at the Howie’s House, Bryson and his family were able to meet two other double lung recipients.

“It’s so nice to see this community,” Katie adds. “It would’ve been nice to have other families to talk to.”

The Hess and Palmer families in the Howie’s House Legacy Garden

We are so proud and humbled that our kitchen was a warm meeting place for such a meaningful moment between a donor and recipient family. These families are a true testament to how organ donation changes lives—and it was all possible because Adam and Kellie said yes to donation.

Through the generosity and support of our contributors, Gift of Life Howie’s House is able to provide a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families.

Click here to donate today!

The annual Gift of Life Volunteer Recognition Ceremony, a day where we recognize the compassion, dedication, and hard work our volunteers bring to the Gift of Life community, took place on June 9th.

Home Cook Heroes group New Vision Pioneers outside in the Howie’s House Legacy Garden.

The Howie’s House had the opportunity to present four awards—the Home Cook Heroes Award, the Heartman Award, the Fundraising Ambassador Award, and the Guest Services Award. We are so incredibly proud and humbled by all of our volunteers and couldn’t have been happier to honor them in this special way.

We presented our Home Cook Heroes Award to New Vision Pioneers, who, led by Jody, have been volunteering with us since the spring of 2015. Since then, they have come in 36 times to date and have served nearly 2,000 meals to families who came a long way to receive treatment in Philadelphia.

The Heartman Award was given to Janice Schwartz Donahue. Janice has been volunteering with Gift of Life for over 20 years, first getting involved with her daughter, Jessica, who was a heart transplant recipient. Sadly, Jessica passed away, but Janice continues to carry on her legacy by coordinating Jessie’s Day with her other daughter, Laura, every year to give the gift of education to organ transplant recipients who are looking to attend college.

Volunteer Janice Schwartz Donahue with volunteer Karen Barnett-Roberts.

Janice is also a weekly volunteer at the Howie’s House. Every Wednesday, you’ll find her in the kitchen warmly welcoming and supporting the Home Cook Heroes volunteer groups, giving tours, setting up and cleaning up, or doing whatever is needed to make sure the kitchen operations are running smoothly.
She has become part of the Howie’s House “family” and we just love having her with us each week. To date, Janice has contributed over 900 hours of her time to supporting the Howie’s House!

This year, the 2018 Fundraising Ambassador Award, which recognizes a volunteer, group, or organization that has demonstrated exceptional leadership in coordinating, motivating, and successfully completing fundraising efforts for Gift of Life Howie’s House, was given to the Penkala Family.

In an effort to honor his son Paulie and raise awareness about organ and tissue donation, Paul Penkala, along with family and friends, hosts an annual golf tournament and graciously donates all of the money raised to Gift of Life Howie’s House.

Howie’s House Development Manager, Sara Cohen, poses with the Penkala family.

In 2011, the family pledged $25,000 to underwrite the Howie’s House resident laundry room in their son’s name, because, as Paul put it, “Paulie was always particular about ironing his clothing.”

Even though they fulfilled this pledge a few years ago, the Penkalas continue to host their outing to support our Adopt-A-Family Program.

The Penkalas also volunteer in the House as Home Cook Heroes, preparing and serving home-cooked meals to our guests, and in the community by participating in speaking engagements, sharing their donation story, and spreading awareness for organ and tissue donation.

The Penkala family has accomplished so much and we are so grateful for all you’ve done for the Howie’s House, our transplant families, and the transplant community.

Lastly, our Guest Service Award was given to Ginneh Earle. Ginneh began volunteering at the Howie’s House in 2014 and has generously contributed over 400 hours of her time since joining our team.

Ginneh Earle, left, and Howie’s House Resident Manager, Diana, right.

Anyone who has been at the Howie’s House on a night where Ginneh is helping knows that they are instantly in good hands, as she makes sure that our Home Cook Heroes groups have everything they need, and always doing so with a welcoming smile. She often will stay at the Howie’s House until after 9pm, making sure several times that there is really nothing else she can do to help!

In addition to being a friendly presence at the Howie’s House on a weekly basis, Ginneh also has volunteered at the Dash and President’s Reception.

Ginneh does not have a direct connection to transplantation, but says that she just wants to help, and we can’t thank her enough for that. Her leadership, kindness, and commitment to support and comfort transplant patients, families, caregivers, and fellow volunteers is truly admirable.

Our volunteers play such an important role at the Howie’s House and we are so grateful for their help—thank you so much!

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!

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