Unsung Hero Winnie Haering- Hospital Gift Shop Volunteer

By Barry Warner

Helen Hayes Hospital volunteer Winnie Haering is standing in front of the items on display in the gift shop. Beyond helping customers locate and purchase the merchandise they need, Winnie may play the role of a confidante or caregiver.
Helen Hayes Hospital volunteer Winnie Haering is standing in front of the items on display in the gift shop. Beyond helping customers locate and purchase the merchandise they need, Winnie may play the role of a confidante or caregiver.

Helen Hayes Hospital (HHH) in West Haverstraw is one of the area’s most dynamic and progressive rehabilitation facilities and is recognized as a center of innovation and excellence. The hospital provides medical, nursing and therapeutic care to patients who need to rebuild their lives following catastrophic injuries, debilitating surgeries and chronic disabling injuries.

The gift shop, located in the inner lobby is the heartbeat of the healthcare facility. It has a sunny atmosphere and a colorful, welcoming and warm environment. It stocks a variety of gift items, greeting cards, stamps, stationery, candy, toiletries, newspapers and balloons. The shop is also an important fund-raising unit for the hospital, as the profits are used to purchase new equipment and to schedule patient entertainment. Gift shop volunteer Winnie Haering brightens the days of the customers with a smiling face and listening ear.

Director of Patient Relations and Volunteers Nancy Barbuda, R.N. said, “We have been extremely fortunate here at HHH to have had Winnie as a member of our volunteer corps for many years. This quiet and soft spoken woman is really a dynamo, yet she never seeks recognition or publicity. Rather, she works behind the scenes, ensuring that everyone else gets the credit. Winnie works in our gift shop on Fridays, but you can always count on her in an emergency. Countless times she has filled in at the last minute when another volunteer could not get here. She also serves as the Chair of the Volunteer Corps Sunshine Committee. This committee reaches out to other volunteers on special events, such as birthdays and anniversaries and is also there if a volunteer is experiencing the sickness or death of a family member. Winnie always ensures that her fellow volunteers are surrounded by caring and concern. She is just a naturally, caring and thoughtful individual.”

Winnie Haering told The Rockland County Times, “I love coming to the gift shop to sell the gifts and make people smile . On Fridays mornings, I greet the customers, make the coffee, sell items and place the newspapers on the rack in front of the shop. Recently, a worried lady who was going for a test came into the shop and started talking to me. I gave her the confidence that the test would have good results. She was so excited that the test results came out O.K. that she came back to the gift shop and gave me a hug! I started volunteering here in 1998, left in 2002 to take care of a family member and returned in 2007. I took over the job of the Sunshine Committee from Peg Humphrey, the original ‘Sunshine Lady’. I collect $5 from each volunteer and send out cards to recognize longevity, birthdays and at the time of loss. I also take care of the engraved brick program which honors patients, families and friends and helps to support HHH projects. The bricks are placed outside of the building in MacArthur Park.”

According to the website www.giftshopmag.com/hospital , hospital gift shops don’t just boost morale, they boost the bottom line of the host institution. One of the biggest factors is the use of volunteers who donate their time. They are a great asset to the gift shop, thanks to their enthusiasm for being there and having a genuine desire to connect with the shoppers. Traffic in the gift shop is predictably steady and a sizeable proportion of the customers are hospital employees. Perhaps most importantly, the gift shop holds numerous comfort items that can ease the tensions of a nervous patient. For most people, a newspaper, magazine or candy bar is a minor convenience, but for a hospital patient, it could be the important distraction that diverts the person’s mind from what could be a serious health condition. In a similar vein, a family member who wants to convey love and warm wishes for a patient can find numerous tokens of affection and good will within the walls of the gift shop. These could take the form of candy, greeting cards and balloons. Hospital gift shops also offer items for those who come to visit patients, whether it is a paperback novel that can keep them occupied while their friend or family member is in surgery or a soda or fruit juice for hydration. Beyond helping customers locate and purchase the merchandise they need, hospital gift shop clerks play another important role in many situations, that of a confidante or caregiver. After all, it’s never easy to see a friend or loved one in the hospital infirmed or in pain. When someone walks into a hospital gift shop, that person may be looking for far more than candy or soda. They might need a smiling face and listening ear. The hospital gift shop volunteer has the power to brighten the day and ease the concern of a worried friend or family member.

For additional information about volunteering at HHH, please contact Rose Galvin, the new Director of Patient Relations at (845) 786-4210.