MARATHON -- Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch? Volunteers working with the Fishermen's Community Hospital Auxiliary indeed receive a free lunch as one of their perks for helping keep the hospital solvent.
Forty-four years ago, a group in Marathon organized to bring a hospital to the Middle Keys. Three years later, on Sept, 3, 1962, Fishermen's Community Hospital admitted the first patient, with a volunteer corps proudly sporting coral pink jackets after fulfilling their mission of working for the health and welfare of the Marathon community. The auxiliary's fundraising efforts -- begun with the first meeting in March 1959 at Evie Parrish's home -- provided contributions that made hospital construction possible. A banquet and parade featuring dignitaries, bands, floats and fireworks accompanied the hospital groundbreaking.
But the auxiliary was not done. With 200 members, including 31 trained and ready to volunteer in the hospital in the early 60s, the auxiliary was called upon to help the hospital make payroll by filling positions that might otherwise have been done by paid personnel, according to Joanne Schwartz, past president of the auxiliary. For the first four years, the communications switchboard was staffed by volunteers. In 1968, the director of nursing trained many volunteers to serve as nurses' aides.
Now, 45 years later, with 60 members and 40 actively working in the hospital, the auxiliary continues to urge interested community members to volunteer. Year-round residents especially are sought to work in the boutique, outpatient area, emergency room,and other offices and departments. The auxiliarists enjoy a schedule of socializing and work with monthly membership luncheons at the Marathon Yacht Club from November through April and artistic endeavors that bring in income for the group's charitable efforts.
On Mondays, a group of crafters meets in the hospital boardroom from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to make items by hand that are sold in the hospital's gift shop, which sits immediately to the right of the hospital entrance. The auxiliarists have been busy creating holiday decorations and "friendship" and "darn it" dolls for patients; they contain sayings appropriate to various ailments and the hope and anger that can accompany them.
Joan Hickey is president of the auxiliary with a two-year term as well as chair of the craft workshops, a responsibility she has enjoyed for four or five years. She is a 25-year member of the auxiliary who lives in Marathon year-round.
Jewelry is the boutique's best-selling item and special necklaces and bracelets imported from Africa are well-priced. Handbags, purse hangers and colorful Britto scarves are available, while kitchen supplies, fleece sweaters and other items round out the possibilities. A book exchange cart features $1 hardcover and 50-cent paperbacks, as Carol Weldy, the current volunteer boutique manager, aims to ensure there is something for everyone.
Next to the boutique and hospital's front desk is a small room called The Hub. Here, two auxiliarists are stationed with the goal of being available to escort, transport, run and deliver items from one department to another and complete other short-term assignments. The variety of tasks keep the work interesting, said Schwartz.
Many auxiliarists can be seen on a weekly basis, accumulating thousands of hours over their lifetime. Bertha Kane, 93, and Claudia Baldwin, 90, are in this august group, while Rose Diezel has logged 19,587 hours, more than anyone else currently participating.
Throughout the hospital, the auxiliary's donations can be seen. They refurnished the Solarium waiting room, patio, front desk area, and Quiet Room, provided recliners in the X-ray and surgical waiting rooms, and water fountains, television, clocks, DVD players and cameras in the patients' rooms. Recently, the auxiliary donated $20,000 toward the new digital mammography unit, provided an Accu-vein finder for the laboratory which enables blood-drawers to "see" where a targeted vein lies, and $25,000 for new EKG machines, surgical instruments and probes.
Because auxiliary membership requires a background check that costs $100, as well as drug and tuberculosis tests, the group especially seeks year-round members or committed seasonal members. Still, everyone interested in joining is welcome. For more information, call Ellen Behrle, the membership chair, at 289-6404, ext. 6408. Auxiliary President Hickey can be reached at 743-4619.
For holiday shopping, the boutique is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays beginning Dec. 1 (and until 2 p.m. in November). A raffle currently is being held for a holiday wallhanging with beadwork done by the crafters. It can be seen hanging behind the front desk. Finally, a 10 percent discount at the boutique is offered during the Fishermen's Community Hospital Holiday Tree Lighting set for 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8.