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Turkey dinner give-away tradition provides County Dialysis patients a Holiday meal they might not otherwise enjoy.
Mark Kelley (left) of Country Farms Market in Easton and Washburn takes a moment during a delivery of turkey baskets at TAMC’s County Dialysis Center to help staff bring the groceries to patient’s vehicles. Photographed are (left to right) Kelley; Pamela Frank, manager of the County Dialysis Center (CDC); Richard Beckwith, a CDC patient from Caribou; Wilma Saunders, a CDC patient from Presque Isle, and Lorena Sullivan, nephrology assistant at CDC.
Aroostook County - Vina Gray, 45, of Houlton is especially thankful this Holiday season. She is one of the 51 patients of The Aroostook Medical Center’s (TAMC) County Dialysis Center to receive a box complete with a turkey dinner and all the trimmings thanks to the generosity of TAMC employees, donors and the legacy of a former dialysis patient who passed away two years ago.
“Before coming to dialysis, my three children and I could only afford to buy two chicken breasts to eat for our Thanksgiving meal. We have been able to enjoy a traditional turkey dinner every year since I started dialysis in 2007, thanks to the baskets given to us by the family of caregivers here at County Dialysis,” said Gray.
Providing a traditional meal to their extended family is exactly what inspires the staff at County Dialysis to ensure the turkey basket project, first introduced in 2002, continues year after year. Patients who utilize the critical services offered by County Dialysis require life sustaining treatment three times a week. Some, like Vina Gray, travel considerable distances. One patient, from the far reaches of the Allagash, faces a two-hour, one-way drive.
“We have a special relationship with our patients. We spend more time with them than most of us do with our own families,” said Pamela Frank, manager of County Dialysis Center. “Our patients face a lot of daily challenges with dietary restrictions and of course the financial burdens they face. All of our patients are on limited incomes. From time to time, some have expressed to us that they are out of food and many turn to the local food pantries to help feed themselves and their families. This is something we truly enjoy doing each year because we feel we are making a difference.”
The project is made possible each year through the generosity of TAMC employees and community donors. Funds are raised for the turkey baskets by TAMC team members who donate money and get to dress in more casual attire on the last Friday of September. Similar “dress casual” Fridays happen monthly for various other worthwhile causes.
Each of the baskets contains a complete meal, including the turkey, potatoes – this year TAMC centennial potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, rolls and even a pie for dessert with the whipped topping thrown in for good measure.
Among the community donors to the cause is Mark Kelley of Country Farms Market in Easton and Washburn. Kelley provides the baskets, stuffed with more than $30 worth of Holiday food, at his cost. He makes several trips to the County Dialysis Center at TAMC’s North Street Healthcare in Presque Isle in the days leading up to Thanksgiving to deliver the frozen turkeys and boxes filled with trimmings to employees, who in turn hand them out to patients.
The store Kelley and his wife own in Easton has provided the groceries since the very first year of the project. It was a long-time employee of the store, Monica Cilley of Easton, herself a patient at County Dialysis, who worked alongside staff at the center to start up the project and sustain it every year until she passed away two years ago.
“This is a great project,” said Kelley. “It makes you feel good to give back to the community and to help brighten the Holidays for those who need a little lift. It is especially meaningful to us to carry forward this tradition that meant so much to a valued employee who is still helping others through her legacy in the form of this project.”
In the years since Cilley and the staff at County Dialysis started the turkey basket project more than 550 complete holiday meals have been given to County families with loved ones undergoing dialysis treatment. Richard Beckwith of Caribou received his basket two days before Thanksgiving. This is the third year he is gifted with a turkey dinner from the staff at County Dialysis.
“I am most certainly thankful. Not only for the meal, but most especially for this facility and the very helpful and friendly people here. I don’t know what I’d do if it weren’t for this place. They are my family.”
TAMC’s County Dialysis Center is the only of one of its kind north of Bangor. Patients utilizing the facility have received over 80,500 treatments since it opened its doors in 1997.