The Nicest Place in New Jersey: Jefferson Washington Township Hospital in Turnersville

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Sharing the Wealth"

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When her stimulus check arrived earlier this year, JoAnn Kates knew exactly how to spend it, sparking a movement.

When JoAnn Kates from Clayton received her stimulus check of $1,200, she toyed with giving $300 to each of her four grown children. But when she thought about how her community was suffering in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to use all of the money to buy food for the medical staff at the nearby Jefferson Washington Township Hospital.

“There have been so many donations, but this one really stood out for us,” says Elisabeth Brent, the executive assistant to the chief administrative officer at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital. “She called our main number and was transferred to me. She felt helpless on how to contribute. She wanted to donate her whole stimulus check.”

One of Kates’ four grown children works as a NICU nurse in Tennessee, and Kates herself served as a caretaker for her husband of 38 years after he suffered a severe brain injury in 2008, eventually passing in 2014. During those six years, he was unable to walk or talk. Medical workers helped her get through the worst six years of her life. So she wrote letters praising everyone on staff at her local hospital, thanking them for caring for people like her husband and sharing how she is touched by their kindness.

So as a way to support them during their darkest hour, Kates used her stimulus check to buy 110 lunches from Scarpinato’s Cucina and Catering, a nearby Italian restaurant. The meals were delivered to the hospital on April 27 and fed the frontline staff from medical-surgical units, ICU, cardiopulmonary and the storeroom, along with a few physicians.

New Jersey was a COVID-19 hot spot in April and May, with thousands of new cases diagnosed each day. Hospitals in Turnersville, a small community of 4,000 about 20 minutes south of Philadelphia, were completely swamped. Residents and businesses stepped up, donating food and supplies to the overwhelmed essential workers, which helped buoy them during even the toughest days. 

“We have had tons of people buy our staff food, but usually businesses, not individuals,” says Nicole Pensiero, corporate director of communications at parent company Jefferson Health. “And certainly not people giving up their government stimulus check.”

meals delivered for hospital staffCourtesy Jefferson Health New Jersey
JoAnn Kates used her stimulus check to pay it forward to a local hospital and her church doubled down on her efforts.

Kates is an active member of Life Church in Williamstown as well as an assistant to the pastor. When members of the church heard about her donation, they were inspired to give an additional $1,000, which paid for another 100 meals from Scarpinato’s to deliver to the hospital staff, feeding employees in dialysis, the pharmacy, same-day surgery, and several other hospital units on May 4.

And she is just one of the heartbeats of this town. Hundreds of community businesses and groups have donated money for meals too. One organization in particular, Food4Staff, started by resident John Chirico has raised about $100,000 and provided some 3,000 EMS workers with meals.

“We were overwhelmed at one point,” says Dana Earley, corporate manager of communications of Jefferson Health New Jersey. “There was just so much coming in for the employees. The emergency department and ICU get the most COVID patients, so they were getting the most food, so they shared with other departments. They spread the wealth, so to speak.” It was a good problem to have, considering all the problems they all faced, together.

Kates declined to speak with Reader’s Digest about her act of selflessness, telling us through an intermediary that she didn’t do this for the attention, but for God.

The Nomination

When Clayton, NJ resident JoAnn Kates received her $1,200 government stimulus check, she initially toyed with the idea of giving $300 to each of her four grown children. But the devout Christian says the Lord spoke to her, telling her to use the money to buy meals for frontline medical workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Kates has a daughter who is a NICU nurse in Tennessee, it was actually her six-year experience as a caregiver after her late husband suffered a severe brain injury in 2008 (he died in 2014) that helped her choose her local hospital — Jefferson Washington Township Hospital in Turnersville, NJ — for her generous food donation.

“Nurses and doctors walked me through the worst six years of my life,” says Kates, whose husband never walked or talked again after a bicycle accident. “I wrote letters praising every nurse and trauma doctor I encountered during that time.”

A fan of Scarpinato’s Italian food in Turnersville, Kates used her stimulus money to purchase 110 lunches that were delivered to the hospital on April 27. Staff from Medical-Surgical Units, ICU, Cardiopulmonary, the storeroom, as well as some physicians and residents, enjoyed the hot meal.

An Administrative Assistant at Life Church in Williamstown, her congregation was so inspired by her act of generosity, it donated $1,000 to provide another 100 meals, also from Scarpinato’s, to Jefferson Washington Township Hospital employees.

“Life Church is so grateful for the healthcare workers at Jefferson Washington Township Hospital, that we wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus and show the love and appreciation of Jesus,” says Pastor Dr. Jamie Morgan about the donation.

These tasty dinners fed frontline staff in Dialysis, Imaging, Lab, EKG, Pharmacy, Storeroom, PACU, Same Day Surgery, MSL, MS2, and MS4 on Monday, May 4.

Chief Administrative Officer John Graham said of these two donations, “The generosity from our community has lifted the spirits of our frontline employees during this pandemic. I want to personally thank Ms. Kates and Life Church.”

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