By Fort Jackson LeaderMarch 22, 2007
They come from many parts of the world - the former Czechoslovakia, Japan and the U.S., but they have a common nature - the desire to donate their time. As volunteers with the Red Cross here on Fort Jackson they have nearly 60 years of service at Moncrief Army Community Hospital (MACH) between them.
For their service and dedication, the Red Cross is honoring Koto "the cookie lady" Lynch, Edith Currie, Joseph J. Caruso and Stanley Hilley this month as Hometown Heroes.
While their duties range from distributing sweet treats to helping dispense much-needed medicine, they all provide much more.
"When someone sees the Red Cross badge they feel a sense of compassion," said Deidra Stubbs, Red Cross senior staff adviser. "They are a symbol, a presence, to the patients of someone who cares."
Koto Lynch came to the United States from Japan in 1970. She has been a Red Cross volunteer since 1979. Known as the cookie lady, every Thursday morning she can be found pushing her cart loaded with cookies, punch, spiced tea and coffee throughout the hospital.
"That's her baby. They are synonymous - Koto and cookies," Stubbs said. "She sees to it that all of the patients in the hospital, including those in the waiting room, receive a little hospitality while they are here in the hospital."
Stubbs added that Koto insists the cookies have to be homemade. Each month, a different unit on Fort Jackson is tasked with providing the Red Cross with 20 dozen cookies, which find their way to Koto's cart and eventually to the patients at MACH.
"She does it with such diligence and she is very protective of it in that she has perfected it," Stubbs said. "She's a tiny lady but she has a really big presence."
Lynch knows the cheer she provides comes from more than just the cookies.
"Whenever I have time, I talk with the patients. I know it makes them feel good, especially the Soldiers, but it makes me feel very good, too," she said. "They like to talk, especially since they can't spend a lot of time on the phone talking with home."
Originally from Czechoslovakia, Edith Currie has been in the United States since 1960. She started volunteering with the Red Cross in 1997. She can be found wheeling patients through the hospital, helping them get from their rooms to different appointments at clinics throughout MACH.
"She has a lot of spunk," Stubbs said of Currie. "She's widowed and her children are grown and moved away. She has told me that the Red Cross keeps her going, but she actually keeps us going with her spunk."
Currie said the time she spends talking with the patients is just as therapeutic for her as it is for the patient.
"I remember we had one young lady, just 19 years old, just back from Iraq. She was so sad. When I took her back to her room she was in tears," Currie said. "I asked her, 'honey, are you hurting'' She said, 'No, I'm just lonesome for my mama.'"
"I told her to close her eyes, I told her to squeeze (hug) me, and then I gave her a sugar on the cheek. It made her cry even more, but it wasn't a sad cry at that point. You have stories from certain patients and that makes you feel good."
Joseph J. Caruso and Stanley Hilley both work in the hospital's outpatient pharmacy.
"We've chosen two people from the pharmacy department since it is a very stressful area of the hospital. People are sick and they want to get out," Stubbs said.
Caruso helps pre-pack medication. By his estimate, volunteering a half-day a week for the last 17 years, he's packaged more than 7 million pills and 2 million vials.
For the retired sergeant first class, Caruso said giving his time at MACH helps him keep in touch with the Army.
"I first came to Fort Jackson in 1959," he said. "Except for a couple of overseas tours (including two rotations to Vietnam) I've been here ever since."
For Stanley Hilley the decision to volunteer was as natural as getting up every morning. He retired from MACH in 2003 after 30 years.
"After you come out here every day for 30 years it's kind of hard to stop coming out," he said. "I enjoy still getting to see a lot of people I've known over the years. Keep in contact."
Hilley performs triage on patient's prescriptions, determining what priority they should be given and answering questions about the availability of medications. He prefers to downplay his service.
"I don't do much, just pass out numbers," Hilley said. "But people coming in here for the first time don't know what is going on. I know what these young people are going through because I've been through it myself. It means a lot just to be able to help."
With 50 Red Cross volunteers spread throughout Fort Jackson, Stubbs admits it was a tough choice picking four to honor.
"We could have picked any of our volunteers. They all have something that stands out, they all bring something to the table," she said. "We could have put all their names in a hat and just pulled out four. We appreciate all the love and hard work and the heart-felt work they put in."