How we got started…
It started in an old closet that had been “renovated” to include a small refrigerator where parents could get beverages for their sick children on the oncology floor at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. It was well past eleven o’clock on the first evening of 2 ½ year-old Trevor Perry’s admission when his dad, Jon, entered that closet for the first time. Once inside, he was greeted by the worried and tired face of another father. The conversation that followed revealed that both dads were newly admitted knowing that their children had some form of cancer but waiting, and praying, that the pathology reports would show a “good” cancer. These late night meetings became a regular occurrence for the troubled dads.
During a meeting several days later, the dads shared their pathology news – one good, one bad. Trevor had acute lymphocytic leukemia (the kind his parents had prayed for), the other child unfortunately had a very bad bone cancer and needed to have her leg amputated at the hip on Friday. The father of this teenage athletic superstar was devastated. Jon went to the meeting room Friday night waiting for his new friend and an update on how the surgery went. Jon’s friend never showed up and Jon was concerned that something very bad may have happened. To Jon’s relief, he saw his friend in the meeting room the following night. Jon joked with him about not having the courtesy to show up and provide an update on Friday night. At that point, Jon was informed through the man’s tears that he could not afford to miss another day of work so he was unable to be at the hospital for his daughter’s surgery. The weight of that reality nearly caused Jon to collapse. Jon returned to Trevor’s room and shared the story with his wife, Joni, and she too was horrified.
Trevor’s chemotherapy was going very well. So well, that Jon was able to put a pillow on the base of Trevor’s IV infusion pump and push him around the floors of the oncology wing. That little race car provided much needed entertainment for Trevor. During these laps, Jon noticed many, too many, children alone in their hospital rooms. The frightened and lonely eyes of these children peering through their hospital doors were a sight Jon could not get out of his mind. Jon was so upset and angry with the parents who would leave their children that he confronted a nurse. Jon was saddened to learn that most of the children had loving parents who simply couldn’t afford to stay with their sick child. Trevor eventually was healthy enough to be discharged and the Perry family returned home. Their lives were changed in many ways.
Eventually Jon and Joni were able to discuss the hospital admission and both remained terribly troubled by the amputation story and the eyes of the children left alone. Jon and Joni were fortunate enough to be in an economic position that allowed them both to be at Trevor’s bedside for his entire admission. The Perrys were also convinced that being with Trevor contributed to his amazing response to treatment. By the end of their discussion, the idea for Pennies From Heaven was formed and a goal was set to eliminate the lonely eyes of children left alone. As its mission, Pennies From Heaven set out to provide economic assistance to needy families thereby allowing parents to remain with their sick child during hospital admissions at all times. Keeping families together during difficult times is important to the healing process, to parents, and most importantly to sick children. Pennies From Heaven provides whatever is needed to allow parents to remain with their children during hospital stays. Gifts range from small overnight toiletry bags and brown bag lunches to paying lost wages, utility bills, and even mortgage payments. Needy families are identified by social workers and a well-coordinated system grants gifts expeditiously for immediate help.
There are many touching family stories including this recently shared by a social worker:
The impact and importance of the Pennies From Heaven Fund is often overlooked and certainly not recognized enough. I have a patient who was recently diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He is 15 months old. Because of his young age and the cell type of the tumor, the only chance at survival is a very rigorous chemotherapy program that will include autologous bone marrow transplant after ultra high dose chemotherapy. Even with this heavy duty chemotherapy regimen, his survival odds are 10 to 20 %. The chemotherapy regimen will take 6 to 9 months to complete. The tumor could recur during the treatment, and all that preceded it would have been for nought. The patient lives in a single parent family. His mother was working at a minimum wage job prior to his diagnosis and living from paycheck to paycheck, but proud of her independence. Needless to say the diagnosis was devastating for the mother. She wants to spend all of her time with the child and has not returned to work. She is in a no work/ no pay position. She is not covered by FMLA. She has no paid vacation days or sick days to use as her job provides none. The Pennies Fund has allowed her to remain with her child in the hospital (length of stay of the first admission is at 24 days and counting). The Pennies Fund is the bridge that has allowed this loving mother to remain with her very sick child during his worst times. Without financial help, she would be broke and heart- broken facing her own form of Sophie’s choice between time with her son and trying to support herself. She is grateful to all who have made it possible for her to have every moment she can get with a son she knows she will likely lose.
With the help of a volunteer board of friends, Pennies has raised more than $2,300,000 and distributed gifts to more than 90,000 families. This same board is largely responsible for the majority of the fundraising activities including an annual golf outing and an outdoor Oktoberfest. In keeping with the initial promise, every penny raised has gone directly to a family in need and there has never been an administrative charge of any kind.
The Pennies From Heaven Fund is a charitable 501(c)(3) organization and donations are federal tax deductible.
The United Way Pennies From Heaven Contributor Choice Code is 223461.
For additional information, please contact email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
**Pennies From Heaven is affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh**