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Jonathan Cheong, Florida Hospital Flagler’s Chaplain, gives food donations to Skip Day Jr. and Carla Traister from the Sheltering Tree, a cold weather shelter in Bunnell. COURTESY PHOTO
Palm Coast Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 8 years ago

Hospital steers food drive

by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

It’s usually not well received when an employee calls her boss and says something like, “Sorry, I’m late for work. By the way, I’m shopping, so do you want anything?”

But Margaret Benko, who was the employee in this scenario, felt confident she wouldn’t get in trouble. A clinical data specialist and registered nurse in Florida Hospital Flagler’s Clinical Effectiveness Department, Benko was shopping for nonperishable food items to fill the donation box in her office.

Benko’s department collected the most — 386 pounds — of any department in the five-week food drive at Florida Hospital Flagler. All the departments collected a total of 2,367 pounds of food.

“We’re all very fortunate, and we need to share with those who are less fortunate,” Benko said. “It’s a time to pull together and show we’re thankful for the blessings we have … We should probably do it more than just once a year at Thanksgiving.”

But the 386 pounds did not come without some drama. Benko said she is a procrastinator, and so she set her phone to remind her to bring in food a day before the Nov. 19 deadline. But when her phone went off, she forgot about the extra time she’d given herself, and she panicked.

“I ran to the grocery store,” Benko said. “I called my boss and told her I was running late.”

When she realized she had the extra day, she decided to go shopping yet again that night. Her son, Nicholas, 12, brought the groceries from the family vehicle into the house.

“I told him, ‘No, no, leave them in the van,’” Benko said. Those groceries weren’t for the family, she told him. She said it was a great teaching opportunity for her son to see her in action trying to help others.

The next morning, Benko brought the food in to the hospital. But when she reached the spot where the drop box had been stored, she panicked again. The box was gone. The food had already been collected.

“I literally ran down the hall,” she said. She then ran down the stairs, grocery sacks in tow, until she found Hospital Chaplain Jonathan Cheong in the cafeteria, weighing the food.

But the stress was worth it.

“It’s a rewarding feeling to know you’re able to help other people,” she said.

The food was eventually delivered to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, God’s Love Ministry, Palm Coast Seventh-day Adventist Church and The Sheltering Tree.

Cheong said, “I felt very touched at the generosity of people of those who were able to contribute without any reservation.”

He said the receiving organizations were happy to receive the food.

“Their shelves were empty, especially the cold weather shelter,” Cheong added.

The hospital’s marketing manager, Lindsay Rew, said: “Our mission is to extend the healing ministry of Christ, and we do that in a number of ways — not just taking care of our patients with compassion, but also by providing food to those who need it. It’s just one of the ways our hospital employees like to give back.”

— Brian McMillan


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