Medicine is an imperfect science weighted with approximations and idealizations intertwined with textbook conditions. Similar to storms, weathering a cancer diagnosis often harbors an equivocal pattern of life altering scenarios. Behind the brick and mortar of countless homes across Philadelphia, innumerable cancer patients are faced with endless days of untenable situations because the devastating effects of cancer ripple far beyond the medicine. For some people, living with cancer results in subsequent and unexpected loss of income. This rapid reduction in resources has devastatingly positioned many patients to choose between purchasing groceries or preventing utility shut off. Forced financial decisions are even more demoralizing for some, typically leaving patients deciding between feeding their families or preventing eviction. This begs the question; how can individuals weather the unpredictability of a devastating illness that arrives in the form of a merciless storm?
In Philadelphia cancer patients can now look for the helpers, or in this case the Storm Chasers. Nonprofit organization Legacy of Hope is passionately and successfully addressing hunger in Philadelphia’s oncology population by creating a brand new Emergency Patient Support Network for cancer patients. This Emergency Patient Support Network was created through sustainable partnerships with Philadelphia’s major hospitals, a family run grocery store chain, and the Philadelphia Police Department; virtually eliminating all barriers between disadvantaged cancer patients, their families, and healthy food.
Assisting cancer patients’ experiencing hunger places Legacy of Hope in the eye of the storm. Rewards that accompany service minded efforts, all too often come at the expense of bearing direct witness to suffering. Accepting they cannot fulfill this mission without exposure to intense suffering only increases the desire of the Legacy Team to continually learn, refine, strengthen, and perfect this network. Their mission is simple and straightforward; “No family should lose their home or go without food because a loved one is fighting cancer”.
Knowing that many cancer patients and families across Philadelphia face immediate hunger, Legacy of Hope works to quickly identify these patients in need. Unlike current food programs, this rapid identification strategy allows Legacy of Hope to efficiently and effectively address the financial, logistical and health barriers causing food insecurity and provide relief to patients with lightning speed.
Without the relentless advocacy of the board and staff at Legacy of Hope, the successful development of the Emergency Patient Support Network would not have been possible. Now, through a multilateral partnership with Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC), the Philadelphia Police Department and Brown’s Super Stores (ShopRite/The Fresh Grocer), an endeavor that began in the final week of February 2020, where countless groceries were being organized and delivered from SKCC, has quickly evolved into so much more.
The evolution of this program currently enables Legacy of Hope to provide grocery deliveries, including fresh produce, to twenty-four families weekly throughout Philadelphia at no cost to the patient. Despite the extraordinary success of the Emergency Patient Support Network thus far, the team at Legacy of Hope harbors a large-scale vision to expand these urgent services for cancer patients and families far beyond Philadelphia’s city limits. The development of such an effective, efficient, and sustainable network demands a recipe of ingenuity, stubborn resolve, and authentic leadership; all of which exemplifies the very core of the Legacy Team and its partners.
Legacy of Hope’s relationship with oncology social workers from Philadelphia’s major hospitals is central to the operation of this network. The ability to quickly identify Philadelphia cancer patients facing the most distressing situations including but not limited to eviction and hunger, paves the way for Legacy of Hope to respond with unmatched speed.
“We are working together to connect patients with resources to support them through their journey which goes beyond medical treatment. Legacy of Hope is addressing larger, more global issues for patients, and they are able to apply quite a bit of support towards these life sustaining needs”. - Rebecca Cammy
Jefferson oncology dietitian Melissa Denton worked diligently to create the current grocery list utilized by Legacy of Hope, which is inclusive of fresh produce and nutritious foods high in protein and nutrients, providing multiple meal options for cancer patients to benefit from. “Being able to supply our patients with nutritious food and menus from our dietitians has really been part of the magic of all of this,” says Greg Garber, Director of Patient Support Services at SKCC and Legacy of Hope board member.
Lisa Capparella, Manager of the Cancer Support and Welcome Center at SKCC speaks of Legacy of Hope founder Mike Rowe saying, “Mike is such a good partner and believer in what we are doing. He sets the bar so high, he makes you want to be a better person”. Lisa goes on to say, “When Mike calls you and says… Hey, I’ve got this idea…you just know he is going to be successful because of his passionate drive, innate adaptability to make the program malleable to any situation, and his sincere compassion to make the world better. He just has this ability to make good things happen.”
“When Mike calls you and says… Hey, I’ve got this idea…you just know he is going to be successful because of his passionate drive, innate adaptability to make the program malleable to any situation, and his sincere compassion to make the world better. He just has this ability to make good things happen.” - Lisa Capparella
It was approximately one year ago when Mike delivered his awe-inspiring vision to the Philadelphia Police Department and later on to Brown’s Fresh Grocer. “Now he has this beautiful relationship with the Philly PD, ShopRite, and The Fresh Grocer which has really allowed for the growth of this program,” says Lisa. Rowe routinely attributes a large portion of the program’s success to Lisa and her team, further acknowledging their experience and willingness to go to great lengths to improve the lives of Philadelphia’s cancer patients.
With more than a decade of experience caring for Philadelphia cancer patients, Greg Garber says “The entire team has come up with systematic ways to identify patients in need and mobilize their energy to make good things happen. Legacy of Hope enables this to happen. When we deliver a full amount of groceries, people are overwhelmed with emotion. It's just awesome to watch and be a part of…to be able to see someone smile so brightly during these times is so wonderful. There are really no words for how it feels to experience”.
“The entire team has come up with systematic ways to identify patients in need and mobilize their energy to make good things happen. Legacy of Hope enables this to happen." - Greg Garber
Let us not forget, access to life sustaining resources have been catastrophically impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Food insecurity in Philadelphia predates the current pandemic, with food insecurity rates reaching as high as 53% in some Philadelphia neighborhoods. With this in mind COVID-19 has added a layer of sheer complexity for cancer patients attempting to access basic human needs such as groceries, which is both anxiety provoking and potentially life threatening. The current need to maintain strict social distancing guidelines, especially among immunocompromised patients, often precludes interaction with family who typically provide access to much needed resources. “These are very desperate times” Garber reminds us, going on to say “during this time, patients are more afraid to go out to stores, afraid to get infected or infect someone else. Delivery services are more than limited in all areas of the city and wait times to get access to food and essentials is more than problematic. Being able to provide this delivery service enables us to effectively keep our patients out of potentially dangerous situations”.
For cancer patients actively receiving treatment, the risk of infection is far greater secondary to resulting immunosuppression. A significant number of cancer patients in Philadelphia live in neighborhoods marked by small scale convenience or corner stores, most of which carry little to no fresh produce or nutrient rich food. These areas, often referred to as food deserts, severely limit patients’ access to healthy food. Cancer patients often face a perfect storm of poor health, limited access to transportation, and poverty. Without people willing to weather this storm with them, these patients face a vicious cycle of poor health outcomes, further reduced income, and loss of hope. This is a war of attrition.
Garber often leads from the front and is described by Rowe as a “tireless and insightful leader”. Greg Garber’s passion and uncompromising take on patient support is evident in Legacy of Hope, and made clear when he says “We take zero risk with our immunosuppressed patients”.
Neu Center for Supportive Medicine and Cancer Survivorship Medical Director Dr. Brooke Worster reflects on her collaborative patient care experiences sharing; “The team at Legacy of Hope comes to the table with the insight and forethought not only to evaluate the financial hardships patients are enduring, they also intently review the risk mitigation perspective our patients are faced with. The team then deliberates strategic ways to supply patients with fresh food while also aiming to decrease risk for infection.”
“The turnaround time is so fast!” Dr. Worster exclaims. She goes on to explain, the needs of cancer patients experiencing financial toxicity and or food insecurity are often identified during her clinical evaluation. With the assistance of her team social worker, a referral is submitted to Legacy of Hope and patients will receive groceries by the end of the week, or in critical circumstances orders are expedited and delivered the very next day. Having also participated as a volunteer, Dr. Worster experienced firsthand the undeniable unity and dedication rooted within this process from initiation to delivery. She stated, “The employees at the grocery store were invested in the process and so thankful to be a part of this, and every single patient we went to was so thankful and so appreciative. Being a part of this proves what a team effort all of this is, it speaks to the fact that it takes a team to accomplish these great things and Mike and Gina’s dedication to filling that gap is incredible”.
"...every single patient we went to was so thankful and so appreciative." - Dr. Brooke Worster
Angela Harnish, Resource Coordinator at the Cancer Center explained, “As patient referrals are processed, Mike, Gina, and the team at Legacy of Hope proceed to place the orders with Brown’s Fresh Grocer. Once the orders have been organized and assigned for distribution, Philadelphia Police Officers from three different divisions coordinate the grocery pick-up and personally deliver the food to patients’ homes.” Nutrition and health outcomes are inextricably intertwined and crucial to the health and wellbeing of this patient population. The development of these partnerships not only creates a direct link for patients between the cancer center and the community but also blends culture, kindness, compassion and the very essence of being human.
Cancer patients are not the only benefactors from this community engagement operation. Island Avenue ShopRite Manager Wayne Obuchowski shared his thoughts on the partnership and his experience, assuring us the Shop from Home department works hard fulfilling these special orders, so patients receive the items they most need. Upon learning one afternoon, Legacy of Hope was in need of a volunteer to deliver food to several patients facing hunger, Wayne wasted no time stepping up to the plate. Without hesitation Mr. Obuchowski volunteered and made the critical deliveries himself. Awestruck by the personal experience Wayne stated, “You see customers smiling, and how appreciative they are when they receive the groceries. What Mike and Gina’s team are doing, it is unbelievable. Seeing is believing, this is just amazing!”
What Mike and Gina’s team are doing, it is unbelievable. Seeing is believing, this is just amazing!” - Wayne Obuchowski
Legacy of Hope’s leadership team is in firm agreement on their decision to work with Brown’s Super Stores, as their staff’s sharp focus on community, hard work, and altruism are part of what makes this incredible effort possible.
“We were able to adapt quickly”, states Gina Mancuso Legacy of Hope Vice President, “because of the tremendous team that we work with. Management and staff at Brown's Super Store quickly responded to an increasing demand for support by scaling right along with us.”
Creating an Emergency Patient Support Network capable of providing support to a growing volume of patients each week requires a significant amount of ingenuity, resolve, and functional expertise from all the organizations involved.
Become a founding member of Legacy of Hope, and support local cancer patients and their families through the Emergency Patient Support Network, and receive a growing number of exclusive discounts at local businesses.
The Philadelphia Police Department, sitting fourth largest in the nation, is the final arm of this multilateral partnership reshaping cancer support in Philadelphia. In early 2019, Rowe and Legacy of Hope Vice President Gina Mancuso ambitiously attended a much sought-after meeting with the PPD, recognizing its already deep commitment to community relations.
Inspector Altovise Love-Craighead of Community Relations and a 26 year veteran of the police force was introduced to Legacy of Hope by way of Captain Javier Rodriguez and Officer Ryan Barksdale from the 25th police district.
Inspector Altovise said “The opportunity for officers to engage with innumerable members of the community in such a meaningful way didn’t require a second thought. I knew the officers would gravitate towards it because they love to help.”. Historically, there were no prior exemplary models to follow when the Emergency Patient Support Network was being created. Inspector Love-Craighead’s determination to work towards this huge goal, now providing life changing support to disadvantaged cancer patients, and ultimately bringing the community together cannot be understated. “Her yardstick for decisions throughout this entire process was, will this have a positive impact on our communities”, states Rowe.
"I knew the officers would gravitate towards it because they love to help.” - Police Inspector Altovise Love-Craighead
For Philadelphia Police Officer Marguerita Wilcox, Captain’s Clerk with the 16th district and 30-year veteran of the force, participation in Legacy of Hope’s grocery delivery program exudes an even deeper personal connection. Officer Wilcox openly shared her journey as a twelve-year cancer survivor, having experienced episodic recurrence and remission along the way. For Officer Wilcox, the opportunity to interact with different cultures, community members and people with various cancer related issues has proven both meaningful and emotional in the best way.
Officer Wilcox describes her experience during a grocery delivery as such: “When you knock on their door or call their phone and they answer the door… they are so grateful. They want to give you hugs. Start crying at the door. It is very emotional. Sometimes as police officers, we get a hard way to go from the news, but we are good people. Good sisters and brothers, and this is what we signed up for. I’m willing to help in any kind of way.”
Good sisters and brothers, and this is what we signed up for. I’m willing to help in any kind of way.” - Police Officer Marguerita Wilcox
The continued expansion of the grocery delivery program invites a sustainable opportunity for Philadelphia Police Officers to maintain quality community engagement where kindness is the new contagion. Inspector Altovise stated, “I think as a department, people see the collective and in some ways we become invisible. We become robots…we become The Police. The human side of us doesn’t exist anymore. This is a way for us to show we’re human and some of us battle with the same struggles.”
As members of the cancer support team reflect on their experiences with the program thus far, Miriam Pomerantz shares “If we can just take some of the patient’s worry away and fill it with support, that makes all the difference”. Angela Harnish stated, “Some days I don't know if it’s more rewarding for me or the patients. I am so grateful to be a part of this; it really makes it feel so meaningful to be able to help all of these people even if it’s just in a small way. Mike, Gina, and their team are putting in hours around the clock to ensure our patients are getting the types of resources they need. They are working above and beyond, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for our patients.”
Lisa Capparella states, “The Legacy of Hope Team has a sincere desire to help people and as a Social Worker I feel the same way. No matter what time of day or evening Mike calls me when a patient is in need, and we work together to get it done.” Gina is another example of why this organization works…because at the heart of it are genuinely good people who want to do good by society.” The desire to serve others is uniquely individualized for each member of this team, just as storm chasing equates to something different for every chaser. These medical storm chasers ask for nothing when they head into each storm, yet as we have learned they always return from each experience with so much more. The heroic collaboration initiated by Legacy of Hope with Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, the Philadelphia Police Department, and Brown’s Super Stores enables hope to float in Philadelphia during this historically dark time. It is no secret that it is much more than a one-person job to truly care for one another, in fact it often takes a village. As we continue to march forward through the storm and make progress here in Philadelphia, in our town of unwavering sisterly and brotherly love, what it takes and what you will find is A City United!
Oncology RN, Jefferson
Director of Community Engagement, Legacy of Hope
Owner, BKL Photography