CJSTUF in the Time of COVID-19

CJSTUF in the Time of Covid-19

It has been quite a while since our last major update but we wanted to let you know that we haven’t been idle.  Covid-19 has seriously affected operations for nearly everyone in the nonprofit world and we’re no exception.

Friday, March 13th was the last day volunteers were allowed at UVA Hospital in Charlottesville. The following week, they suspended all non-essential personnel activity at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR).  Almost immediately, conversations began with the  Child Life departments of both locations to see how we could keep the Meal Fairies program going, keeping the new restrictions in mind. The solution that became evident at both locations was that we would hand the food off to someone from Child Life and they would distribute it accordingly.

IMG_0599As the weeks progressed, restrictions around food delivery tightened further. Currently, we order most meals online or over the phone and pay the same way.  Roger wears fresh gloves and a mask when he picks up or drops off food and then hands the contents over to Child Life staff members in the designated drop-off area, sometimes never even touching the containers.  Every once in awhile, we can get food delivered by the restaurant, which helps immensely.

Many nonprofits that operate within the Children’s Hospital sphere found it necessary to curtail or outright cease operations, mostly because their services to the families depend strongly upon face-to-face interaction. This is nearly impossible right now. CJSTUF has been able to fill some of these gaps while continuing our current services, even through this challenging crisis.   

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Delivery to UVA on a Wednesday!

Since the March shutdown we’ve been delivering food to each hospital on our regular schedule (once weekly to each hospital, plus a bonus delivery to UVA Children’s monthly), but have added extra deliveries to CHoR on Tuesdays and to UVA Children’s on Fridays, effectively doubling the number of people served in a week.  You, our generous supporters, have made it possible for us to do this by making CJSTUF financially stable enough to temporarily take on this extra burden.

We’ve been proud to help support our AMAZING restaurants and suppliers  but the extra activity also means our monthly expenses have doubled. Since the date for relaxing the restrictions keeps getting pushed back, it’s obvious that we will not be able to continue providing food for the families at this increased rate.  We will certainly continue to provide meals on our regular schedule, but we would surely love to continue the expanded service until our fellow nonprofits can resume their regular operations.

It is difficult to ask for donations from people who have already given so much and might be severely affected by the shutdown themselves, but that’s what we need to do.  What is the impact of a delivered meal? Our Child Life allies have told us many stories of the effect of the Meal Fairies:.

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Heather Kinney at CHoR, deputized as an official Meal Fairy!

“Another huge success today!  The box lunches worked great, it was plenty to feed the families.  I wish I could film it for you, families grateful and staff SO appreciative it would make you teary!” – Heather Kinney; Child Life Specialist CHoR

“Everyone loved the…subs…The toasted bread and melted cheese were a happy surprise for several moms.  [There were] so many happy parents and staff afterward.  “Thank you” seems insufficient but I’m truly grateful for you.” – Pattie Carrubba; Child Life Specialist UVA Children’s Hospital

We also drop off fruits and veggies to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Charlottesville and they are equally thankful: “We are so grateful for your donation…Our guests very much appreciate your continuing commitment to helping us ensure their health and well-being…” – Rita P. Ralston; Executive Director RMHC Charlottesville

While we love the thank you notes and expressions of gratitude, the descriptions barely scratch the surface of what’s actually happening on the hospital floors.

Families are feeling even more isolated than normal and stress levels are high.  Few, if any, visitors are allowed in and every little cough or sniffle adds its own amount of dread, especially for patients who are immune-suppressed. With fewer and fewer donations being allowed, families have fewer opportunities to realize that they are not alone and that people “on the outside” care and are thinking about them.  Being in the hospital can be exceptionally lonely.

Our occasional meals give these families and caregivers just a tiny little bright spot in their days.   A simple sandwich seems like a feast.  Our meals give hope, and we all know how powerful hope can be.

So this is what we need:  Meal sponsorship.  

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Cookies make everybody’s heart happy!

Our budget has always been $300 per meal.  We have often been able to arrange meals for less than that but with everything needing to be packaged separately, costs for both labor and supplies have crept up.  We still get great deals from some vendors but we’ve never wanted to be a drain on the system and we are more than happy to do our tiny part to keep our partners afloat.  It’s like a two-way investment.  Everyone scratches everyone else’s backs (virtually, of course!) and the end result is the continuation of our mission to serve families in their time of need.

While we never refuse donations of any amount, we could sure use the $300 variety.  There’s a “Donate” button on every page of our website and on many of our Facebook posts. Can you afford $10 a month?  You can become a sustaining donor and have it withdrawn automatically from your bank.  You won’t even miss it. A $25 monthly commitment funds one of our meals each year.

Do you own a restaurant or catering business and want to donate food at a reduced cost?  Even if you could only do it once, it would be a huge help. Contact Roger for details regarding the foods we can accept and packaging requirements. 

Here are some of the things our amazing vendors have done for us, above and beyond anything we could expect:

Pepicelli’s Pizza in Ashland has been donating 20 pizzas per month to the Meal Fairies for years and didn’t bat an eyelash when we asked for subs that needed to be wrapped separately.

Subway (both in Ashland and Charlottesville) has gone even further beyond, actually providing subs at all hours and sometimes delivering to the hospital when someone wasn’t available.

Jersey Mike’s of Ashland has always given us a great deal and has supported us in other ways.  The last time we picked up subs, we were informed that April and June’s meals would be on them!

Christopher’s Runaway Gourmay is a food cart that sets up outside the Gateway entrance to VCU Medical Center downtown.  It’s probably the best food cart you will ever experience.  They have already closed up shop due to Covid-19 but still set us up with a special lunch that included separate containers for each meal.

Ashland Coffee & Tea made us some SERIOUSLY tasty lunches.  Owner Cate Hawks made them herself and basically charged us cost.

When I ordered lunches from Homemade’s By Suzanne in Ashland, I expected simple sandwiches and maybe chips but as they brought out the bags and bags of food, I knew we had been given the royal treatment.

Take It Away Sandwich Shop in Charlottesville also opened up just for us and, as always, included PLENTY of their special house dressing!

60814110333__995CA4BE-82EA-408A-94BC-9D713700B1B8All this effort, all of your generosity, and all of CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation’s commitment to make any family’s unbearable situation just a little more bearable has resulted in nearly 1,700 patients, family members, and caregivers being served since March 13.

We’ll keep doing what we can as long as we can.  With your help, we will.

Thank you. –Roger and Rachel

Ten Years-What It Means

Roger Vol IAs 2018 ends and 2019 begins, a time for reflection is expected. We frequently look back on the year and look at the good, the bad, and lessons we may have learned. For CJSTUF, 2018 was another year of success. We served meals to over 10,000 patients, family members, and caregivers for the third year in a row. Our Meal Fairies program has inspired additional meal services by the Ronald McDonald House of Richmond as well as organizations that are serving meals at UVA Children’s Hospital. In fact, at least 5 days a week, families getting care for their children at UVA can now receive a meal free of charge. While CJSTUF is not providing all of these meals, we like to take a little bit of credit for the inspiration that brought such a program to the hospital in the first place.

D_CJButter_31910cmykIn addition to the reflection of the past year, my thoughts have been on another approaching milestone. 2019 will mark ten years since Charlotte’s diagnosis and treatment. By the end of 2009, we had reached what was the end of Charlotte’s life but only the beginning of the journey for CJSTUF.

What a journey it has been!

Before 2009, our experiences with hospitals had been limited to either my professional training as a speech language pathologist (very limited) or the occasional accident/illness; something that you experienced with your older relatives or very short trips to the ER. The idea of stopping everything for the life of your child for almost a year was something I could barely fathom. We lived the experience and survived with the help of an amazing network of friends and family.

Before 2009, my experience with nonprofits had been as an employee and a donor/supporter/volunteer. We have now lived the startup experience firsthand. We have learned many lessons; I pursued an additional graduate certificate in nonprofit management and participated in the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program. I have since sat on other boards and given advice to many people interested in starting up or managing their own nonprofit. Sometimes our seemingly contradictory advice is, “Don’t do it.” It’s hard work, it’s never-ending, and it’s not always the right way to go about changing the world. However, it gave our lives focus at a time when grief was overwhelming and overpowering. In some ways, I think CJSTUF gave me a way to power through my pain and I am grateful for that.

Before 2009, I had experienced grief and loss in many ways. I had lost a parent, all of my grandparents, and even some friends. None of this prepared me for the loss of my own child. I now understand the word anguish in a way that I never thought possible. I understand grief such that stories of tragedy, particularly the death of a child, can instantly bring me to tears. The grief journey has waxed and waned and we have spoken of it often. It flares from time to time and then it subsides. The grief is always there. I would not wish the pain on anyone. Knowing that we can use this pain to further some good in the world is a small relief, one that keeps me rolling out of bed each day.

2016-01-04-23-11-00So as 2019 begins, I look towards many anniversaries with mixed emotions. A decade is a significant milestone. We are proud of the many things that CJSTUF has done for families and we want this legacy to remain for decades to come. We will start the year with our annual #Light4CJSTUF on January 7. It is a day to pause and remember Charlotte’s death for what it means to us and what her legacy can mean to to others. Bringing light to a time of darkness is sometimes all we can do. It can be enough. As the year continues, there will be celebrations, fundraisers, and milestones, including the Thumbs Up Ball in February (do you have your tickets yet?). Most importantly, we will use the next two years to focus on CJSTUF’s legacy for decades to come. Stay tuned for some exciting developments in the life of our organization! We will have a lot to say!

For those of you who have been with us on this journey from the beginning, thank you for everything you have done. Your kindness and light in a time of darkness has been the foundation keeping Roger and me moving forward. For those of you just joining us on the journey, thanks for coming along! Just today, we received a donation from a parent whose child received meals from CJSTUF at UVA during their own medical journey two years ago. Their desire to give back is an expression of gratitude that we understand so well. May the light shine in us so that we may bring it to others in their time of darkness.

Thanks for being a part of the first ten years. 

 

 

We Look to the Light

For some, 2016 is a year many would like to forget. Between a crazy election year, violence across the globe, and a plethora of celebrity deaths, it’s been enough for many to easily say, “Thanks for nothin’, 2016.” We’ve had our own share of challenges on the homefront too. I can’t say this has been the best year ever.

BUT it bears mentioning that there have been some really exciting reasons to celebrate at CJSTUF this year.

10kmealfairies

This year, we hit a grand milestone: 10,000 served in our Meal Fairies program in just this year alone. That includes our programs at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, UVA Health Systems, and the Ronald McDonald House programs in Charlottesville and Richmond.

We also received TWO grants from Rite-Aid’s Kid-Cents program, one for $7500 in January and another for $5000 in December. Thanks to everyone who registered for the Kid-Cents program. If you missed it, you can still sign up. Every little bit counts.

For the third year in a row, Goddard Schools of Richmond partnered with CJSTUF for some amazing Fall and Winter fundraisers. While the totals are still rolling in, we know that we have received over $6000 from the area Goddard School programs. They held fundraisers ranging from spaghetti dinners to art auctions in honor of our organization. We are so grateful for this ongoing commitment from a great group of business owners.

Finally, we started our Mile of Fives campaign with a goal of collecting enough $5 donations that would, when stacked end to end, equal one mile. This would total about $50,000. Our goal for this year was to reach a little over $9,000 but I’m pretty sure we exceeded that goal. Stay tuned in January for an update on our progress.

All of these milestones give me hope. They are small lights that add up over time to create a beacon in the darkness. They keep me focused on the future instead of moping about the past (or the present). Thanks to you, our loyal supporters, we will go into 2017 with strength and courage to continue the work of our mission. We are ready to keep the Meal Fairies going strong…with even the possibility of expansion in the near future.

982e1-regalcj-bmpWith these words of thanks, I would like to remind everyone to make your own #Light4CJSTUF in honor of CJSTUF’s 7th anniversary, which coincides with the anniversary of Charlotte’s death. For the third year in a row, we invite you on January 7 to light a candle, take a picture, and post it to social media with the hashtag #Light4CJSTUF. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram but you can post anywhere you like. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, you can tag @cjstuf as well. This has become a beautiful tradition that we (CJ’s family) cherishes each year. Thank you for helping us honor her memory in such a tangible way.

If you’re looking for more ways to make an impact, consider the following for your family’s goals for 2017:

  • Becoming a sustaining donor to CJSTUF with a monthly commitment to our organization. A donation of $10 per month helps us feed over 30 people in our Meal Fairies program.
  • Sign up to make a meal during one of our Ronald McDonald House volunteer dates. This is open to families with children, service organizations, or anyone interested in giving back.
  • Celebrate for CJ in 2017. Run a race in her honor. Ask for donations to CJSTUF in lieu of presents for a wedding, anniversary, birthday, or other special occasion. Host a butterfly social. It’s an easy way to contribute and every little bit makes a difference.

With great thanks,

Rachel Reynolds
CJ’s Mama

It’s Better to Light One Candle

It’s the week of CJ’s death anniversary. I’ve had some thoughts simmering in my head for a few weeks now but can’t seem to write them all down. Let’s see how this goes…

Last year at this time, I reflected upon the 5 years that had passed since Charlotte died and CJSTUF was founded. It was touching to see how many people remembered Charlotte by making a #light4CJSTUF. 

Many people know the proverb, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

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Photo credit: Sara Holloway

When I reach this time of year, it feels easy to curse the darkness; to curl up into a hole with a warm blanket and hide….with the necessary provisions of dark chocolate and wine, of course. Part of it is the cold weather but most of it is memories from 2009 that reach their peak around the Christmas holidays and settle in my chest right around January 1. The darkness won for quite a few years. The holidays were miserable. Now they’re merely tolerable.

I think the light is winning. Perhaps it’s because my attention is diverted. I wrote about 18 months ago on my personal blog, “the busy-ness of child rearing can sometimes be just enough to pull you out of the black hole of grief.” Kiddo is definitely a big part of finding the light. However, I also think that the light is winning because of YOU. The Network has always been there. From day one. It has never faltered. It never went away. The light that is The Network keeps burning. In my mind, it’s like the votive candles in a cathedral. Whenever you enter a Catholic church, you will see the rows of votives. Some are lit; others are not. But it’s always enough. Just when you think that sacred space will be lost to the darkness, someone comes along and offers up another prayer and a candle. They bring the light. That’s how The Network is for us.

So on the sixth anniversary of Charlotte’s death, let me say again: Thank You!

Thank you for allowing us to give back to our community through your gifts to CJSTUF.

Thank you for your moral support, your cheers from the sidelines, and your sympathetic tears.

Thank you for keeping your lights shining.

Let’s make #Light4CJSTUF an annual event. Any time this week, but particularly on January 7, light a candle, take a picture, and post it to social media with the hashtag #light4cjstuf. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram but you can post anywhere you like. If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, you can tag @cjstuf as well.

By lighting a candle, you are honoring Charlotte’s memory.

By lighting a candle, you are honoring the memory of any child who has died and supporting grieving families.

By lighting a candle, you are giving hope to a family whose child requires constant medical care and frequent hospitalization.

By lighting a candle, you are sharing the mission of CJSTUF with others.

Thank you for being a part of the light.

–Rachel Reynolds
CJSTUF Co-Founder
Mom to CJ

Five Years: What it means

Five years.  A minor milestone kind of year.  Not usually worthy of a class reunion but to a five-year old kid, the fifth birthday is a biggie.  I still remember mine.

A few days after Charlotte Jennie’s death on January 7, 2010 from a Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor (PNET), we received a letter in the mail from the State Corporation Commission notifying us that CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation had been officially and legally incorporated.

The date of official incorporation was January 6, 2010.  The day before Charlotte died.

I HATE that CJSTUF exists.  I HATE that CJSTUF HAS to exist.  I HATE the reason we started down this path in the first place.  If I think about how much I hate all that for too long, that’s when my steering wheel begins to take a beating.

Some of the yummy food delivered by the Meal Fairies.
Some of the yummy food delivered by the Meal Fairies.

But without CJSTUF, all that support that was directed at us would have drifted away after Charlotte died.  The 180 grants we’ve sent out would not have helped our families at VCU and UVA Health Systems in their times of need.  We wouldn’t have served 10,000+ meals to the families and caregivers on the 7th floor of Children’s Hospital of Richmond and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond.  We wouldn’t have been able to offer volunteer opportunities to children and adults alike.

We wouldn’t have been able to make a few unbearable situations just a little more bearable.

On top of all that, we wouldn’t have been able to meet the legion of amazing people who have come into our lives:  Our continuously energetic Board Of Directors, the other families with whom we have commiserated and from whom we’ve received such love, and the people–friend, family, and stranger alike–who have entrusted us with their hard-earned resources so that we may be able to continue the forward momentum of this great coping mechanism that we call “CJSTUF.”

At the risk of embarrassing her, we must hold high upon a pedestal our Managing Director, Michelle Alford, and her wonderful family. When we put out the call for applications to fill the newly created position of “Foundation Facilitator,” we had no earthly idea that out of the many talented and highly qualified applicants, we’d be introduced to the amazing Michelle Alford and her family.  Not only did she become an indispensable employee (who totally kicks heiney at what she does) but her entire family is now on the short list of who we call “close and trusted friends.”  And what with the impending adoption of our Kiddo, it’s so nice to have a “best friend” for her in the form of their eldest daughter.

Just a few of the many grants we have sent to families over the last five years.
Just a few of the many grants we have sent to families over the last five years.

Michelle has been a huge part of the growth and success of the Foundation and we hope she will choose to continue her journey with us for the foreseeable future.

Now, none of this will bring Charlotte Jennie back to us and this week is understandably one of great pain and heartache, but we really do find comfort in the fact that we are able to continue her legacy in the form of CJSTUF and that so many people seem to be rooting for us.

We are very thankful for all of those who will be lighting luminaries in Charlotte’s memory on January 7.  Let those lights continue to blaze in your hearts whenever the night seems darkest.

#Light4CJSTUF

Roger Reynolds
CJSTUF Director of Programs
CJ’s Daddy

Uplifting & Reflective

I sit here on the eve of a new year thinking about everything that has happened since 2010. As we approach the 5th anniversary of the founding of CJSTUF, we also mark the 5th year since Charlotte Jennie’s death from a brain tumor. In that way, January has become a time for profound reflection.

CJ_Annual_2013-coverI am grateful for all that we have been able to accomplish in five years.  As we noted in our 2013 Annual Report, we have provided support in the form of meals and financial assistance to thousands of individuals.  In 2014 alone, we fed over 4000 people through the Lunch Bunch program at Children’s Hospital of Richmond.  In 2015, we will distribute our 200th $500 financial assistance grant.  In 2014, we also expanded our reach to the Charlottesville area, providing assistance to over 20 families served by UVA Health Systems.

As our visibility in the community has grown, we have been given great opportunities to share our story and receive support from generous donors such as the Deep Run Marathon Dance, The Richmond Area Goddard Schools, and the many individual donors who helped us exceed our fundraising goals each year of participation in Richmond’s Amazing Raise.  As it has been from the start, these larger gifts grow from the efforts of just a few people. It is the Network…the friends and family who supported us in 2009…who have helped this vision become a reality. It is the expansion of the Network that helps our vision continue.

Unfortunately, this expansion and visibility in the community has also increased demand for our services. We currently have over 20 families waiting for financial assistance. While we were successful in raising the money for which we budgeted in 2014, our waiting list exceeds our means at this time. We are committed in 2015 to pursue grants and sponsorship funding that will help us achieve (and exceed) our financial goals. Our journey continues and our energy is renewed!

Each year in January, we look fBeth's pics 094or specific ways to honor Charlotte’s memory outside of donations to the foundation. At her memorial service in 2010, we released hundreds of pink and purple balloons into the sky. Watching those bouquets of color reach for the heavens, I was struck at her memorial service by the tangible symbol of support this portrayed. Much like the balloons in Pixar’s Up raised Carl’s home and saved it from imminent destruction, each balloon released by a member of our Network lifted our hearts and our spirits at a time when our grief left us heavy and burdened.  Every year since, we have honored Charlotte’s day of passing (January 7) by releasing a few balloons outside our home with a collection of close friends and family.

In this spirit, the work of the foundation lifts families. We can’t lift their entire house with our offering of help and hope, but we can lift a heart. We can lighten the load of a mother who has spent 10 days in the hospital at her daughter’s side by offering a hot meal. We can ease the worry of a family whose child is facing three years of leukemia treatment by putting $500 towards their mortgage this month.  

This year, we would like to mark the 5th anniversary of Charlotte’s death and the founding of CJSTUF in a slightly different way. Instead of releasing balloons, we are going to light candles. We hope you will join us. Much like the balloon analogy, when we light a candle, we provide a beacon to families in their time of darkness. Perhaps one candle cannot guide a steamship into a safe harbor, but it can lead one family out of the darkness. It can give warmth and guidance along the path for at least a few. And while one candle may not do much, think of the power that we all might have in lighting those candles together. Imagine the glow that 1000 candles could provide on a cold winter night.

Please join us on January 7th, honoring CJ in whatever way feels right to you. If you wish to share (especially on social media), please use the hashtag #Light4CJSTUF in your post. We are active on Facebook and Twitter (@cjstuf).

Thank you, Network, for always being there in our time of need. Everything the last five years has brought to CJSTUF is possible because of your generous spirit.

With love and peace,

Rachel Reynolds
CJSTUF Board Member & Co-Founder
CJ’s Mommy

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Rebecca Wright

Volunteer Spotlight:  Rebecca Wright and Katie Marsden

For more information about volunteering with CJSTUF, including opportunities at the Richmond Ronald McDonald House, visit our Volunteer Page
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Rebecca Wright and her daughter Katie have been long-time friends of Rachel and Roger Reynolds, founders of CJSTUF.  They also happen to be very enthusiastic in the kitchen, and have been excited about the opportunity to volunteer through CJSTUF’s Meal Fairies Program at The Ronald McDonald House in Richmond.  Read below for more about Rebecca’s experience as a volunteer with CJSTUF.

Rebecca & Katie cooking up a fine feast at RMH-Richmond
Rebecca & Katie cooking up a fine feast at RMH-Richmond

Our favorite quote from Rebecca about volunteerism:

“I totally believe in the “butterfly effect” — Even the smallest fluttering of your “wings” can have big effects down the road. So we choose to “flutter.”

 

 

 

 

 

What motivated you to become a volunteer for CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation’s Meal Fairies Program at Ronald McDonald House?

[My godson] Kieran went to Sloan-Kettering in NYC after he finished his treatment at MCV, and we always stayed at the RMH there. That’s a much larger facility, so restaurants provide meals a night or two a week.  It was great to be able to come back to a nice meal after a long day of treatment (which can be very intense and exhausting for everyone) and not have to worry about what we were going to eat.

How did you learn about CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation?

Roger was Katie’s freshman advisor at Randolph-Macon, and she often babysat for Charlotte.  She was just devastated when Charlotte was diagnosed, particularly coming a year after my godson’s diagnosis (for whom she also babysat). So we’ve followed the “story” from the get-go. I’ve worked with several local and national pediatric cancer organizations, but this just seemed like a great way to “pay forward” some of the support that we have received over the past seven years and do it in a way that would honor that precious little girl.  It’s so very hard to lose a child (I have personal experience and have watched too many “cancer friends” endure it), so I also want to support Rachel and Roger in their efforts.

Can you share a little bit about your experience preparing meals for the families at the Ronald McDonald House?

Doing this is fun!  I love to cook for people, and the RMH kitchen is pretty amazing.  This just seemed like a natural fit. I follow their guidelines and plan meals that we can prepare in two hours.  I bring separate tote bags with all the ingredients for each dish, and Katie and I decide in advance who is going to cook what. (The pre-planning is really important.) Then we just grab a tote bag and get to work!

Tell us about yourself and what you do when not volunteering for CJSTUF.

After 38 years, I retired from being a high school English teacher in Henrico County in 2011, then did a consulting job with the AP program for two years, and am now finally, really retired! (Well, I still sub and tutor during the school year.) My hobbies are cooking, gardening, and NOT doing housework!  Everyone in this family LOVES kids — In addition to Katie, we have a younger son who is a student at VCU and works as a counselor at the Jewish Community Center, and I have four grown stepchildren with their own kids and step kids, PLUS a large extended family — So throwing down a big meal isn’t a problem.

As I said, I have done some volunteer work with pediatric cancer organizations — Connor’s Heroes, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, and CureSearch, and have written some articles/presented at conferences.  Now that Kieran is (knock on wood!) doing so well, I have more time to devote, because I was chief babysitter/assistant nurse to that boy for several years!  Honestly, having experienced all of this so closely, I feel like a slacker if I’m not doing SOMETHING involving support, because I know that there are people out there who need it.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering for the CJSTUF Meal Fairies program through Ronald McDonald House?

Again, it’s fun!  It takes only a few hours, and we get to work in the kitchen of our dreams.   Sometimes a guest comes through, and we get to chat for a bit, but usually we’re just there doing our cooking thing.

I think that, sometimes, people hesitate to get involved with a project because it may take too much time, or maybe they think they don’t have the skills, or maybe it will turn out to be more than they bargained for.  This doesn’t, they probably do, and it won’t!

Our Vision

Smiling CJOver the last four years, we have seen CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation grow in amazing ways.  When we set out to start this organization, our mission was clear.  We wanted to honor Charlotte Jennie’s memory by serving families in their time of need.  We do this through meals (almost 3000 served this year alone) and financial assistance (about $50K given to over 100 families since 2010).  We are serving many needs of the Richmond, VA community and have exceeded our goals every year of our existence.

All of this is made possible through the leadership of our Board and Staff, the work of many volunteers, and the many donations (big and small) that come from YOU, our caring NETWORK.  As proud as we are of everything CJSTUF has accomplished, we are not content. Over the last year, our Board of Directors launched efforts towards a Strategic Plan that will help us go to the next level.

In September, our Board adopted the following Vision statement for our organization:

“We want CJSTUF to be the hub that connects families to

financial, educational, and emotional resources

while they manage their child’s illness.”

In order to accomplish this vision, we must continue the strategic expansion of our current programs while developing opportunities with new partners.

Here are some of the highlights for how we will grow in the coming months:

  • MealfairiesBeginning in 2014, CJSTUF will expand its efforts to serve the needs of families at UVA Health Systems in Charlottesville, VA.  This will start with financial assistance grants but we hope to expand the program with meals and other opportunities as the needs present.
  • As of December, I will step down from my position as Executive Director.  I won’t be going far from the organization.  I hope to continue serving CJSTUF as a Board Member or in other capacities.  Michelle Alford, our current Event Coordinator, will assume the role of Managing Director and Roger will continue to work for the foundation with the new title of Director of Programs. As key program staff for CJSTUF, Michelle and Roger can expand their roles in planning both fundraisers and program services for the organization.
  • We will continue to work with C4 and other Richmond area organizations to coordinate service delivery and support for families at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and Ronald McDonald House of Richmond through financial assistance, patient education, and our Meal Fairies program.

 

Thank you for helping us get this far. Thank you for helping us grow.  Thank you for helping us in our quest to achieve this vision.

Rachel Reynolds
Executive Director & Co-Founder CJSTUF
Mama to CJ

 

 

 

The Evolving Meal Fairies Program

“Food, glorious food!  Eat right through the menu!” – Oliver

 

2013-07-18 11.38.57 It’s amazing what you DON’T think about when a health crisis hits; especially when it’s  your child having the health crisis.  One of the many things we learned when  Charlotte was diagnosed with cancer was that, as a parent, food for ourselves was  absolutely the last thing we considered on our list of priorities.  After speaking with  many other parents and caregivers in similar situations, we have found it to be a  consistent sentiment.

 

For us, hospital stays meant eating lots of fast food, vending machine junk, or the  entire lasagna that the neighbor brought over.  So when it came time to start giving  back/paying it forward through CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation, we decided healthy(ish)  meals were a way to start and the “Meal Fairies” program was born.  The Meal Fairies began by offering something of a “telephone tree” kind of system where news of a child’s health crisis was spread and we would try to get someone to run food over to the hospital or their house so that they would have one less thing on their “worry list.”  It only worked passably and we knew there were many more families NOT getting the nourishment they needed.  Something more needed to be done.

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We approached Heather Kinney in the Child Life Department of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (where Charlotte received the majority of her treatment) to arrange for meals to be served once a month up on the 7th floor pediatric wing of the Main Hospital.  We teamed up with Connor’s Heroes Foundation to get everything organized/approved through the hospital and on Thursday, June 28, 2011, the “Lunch Bunch” served it’s first meal to around 50 parents and caregivers.

 

As CJSTUF continued to grow financially, we were able to increase the Thursday meals to a weekly occurrence (including an AMAZING Thanksgiving meal from Homemades By Suzanne) and by the end of 2012, we had served 1177 meals!

 

The Lunch Bunch has continued as a weekly program ever since, offering not only healthy meals to the residents of the 7th floor but a great way for CJSTUF and CHF to directly communicate with many families within our scope of service.  As of the end of August, The Lunch Bunch had served 2422 meals in 2013, which puts us on pace to triple the number of meals served from last year.

 

Our latest Meal Fairies project is serving occasional Tuesday evening meals at Ronald McDonald House of Richmond.  After staying at the RMH in Houston and seeing the wonderful meals provided by area businesses and churches, we know how much it is appreciated.  So far, we have participated in 4 nights and already have many more planned for the future.  We also hope to expand this service to other hospitals and cities starting early next year.

 

The future for CJSTUF’s Meal Fairies is extremely bright and we are excited at the prospect of increasing the number of families we can help both financially and with the occasional healthy meal.

 

Thanks to the generous discounts provided by our food vendor sponsors such as Pepicelli’s Pizza, Christopher’s Runaway Gourmay, Au Bon Pain, and the aforementioned Homemades By Suzanne, we can serve 70-100 people for about $300 a week.  These weekly expenses, plus the staff required to facilitate meal distribution and visit with the families, add up quickly.

You can continue to help The Meal Fairies in various ways:

1)      On Thursday, September 18, a 36-hour fundraising spectacle called The Amazing Raise will take place.  Hosted by The CommunityAmazingRaiseLogo Foundation in Richmond, it will include dozens of local tax-exempt organizations, including CJSTUF, vying for your donations of $25-50 in order to win thousands of dollars in bonus prizes.

Two of those bonus prizes are called the “Lunch Breaks” and will run from 12-2pm on both Sep 18th and 19th.  The organization that receives the most donations of $25 or more during this time will get an extra $1000 bonus grant.  A portion of donations we receive from the Amazing Raise during these times will directly benefit the Meal Fairies program.  You can pledge your support for this program today! We will help with the rest.

2)      Volunteer to help cook or provide food for dinners at Ronald McDonald House of Richmond.  We are allowed to either bring in a catered meal or cook the meal itself in their newly renovated (and, might I add, super gorgeous!) kitchen.  Well supervised “younger assistants” are allowed and welcomed. Dates available for volunteering are: Sep. 10th and then Oct. 1, 22, and 29.  Please contact Roger at roger@cjstuf.org.

3)      Join the growing crowd of regular supporters who contribute through weekly or monthly payroll deductions sent directly to CJSTUF.  Many companies will match your donations.  Ask your Human Resources department.

 

As always, thank you for your tremendous support and please remember: It’s not just food…it’s hope.

 

Every Vote Counts!

As you may have heard by now, Rachel has been named a candidate in two voting contests. Each one could help CJSTUF earn funds that we can use towards our mission. 
You don’t have to register your email address or log in. Just click to vote every 24 hours.
Contest #1: Eagle Rare Award. Rachel was a runner up for this award last year and CJSTUF received $2000 that we are using for the Lunch Bunch program.  We could earn up to $30,000 for CJSTUF this year if we win the big prize! Rachel is currently in 5th place. Voting ends January 2013.  
Lady Godiva logo Contest #2: Rachel was one of nine women selected from over 1000 entries for the fall round of voting in the Lady Godiva Program. If she wins this round, CJSTUF gets $1000 and a chance to earn up to $10K in the final round. Voting ends September 26. 
We know that we have a wonderful Network. That is how CJSTUF came to be in the first place. In the last three years, our network has continued to grow and we appreciate all of the support.  Voting in these contests helps us achieve our mission and it only takes a few seconds of your time.  If you can spare a few more seconds, please share this blog in an email or on social media with your friends. Every vote counts!