How volunteers brighten Christmas Day for our hospitalized patients

Fran Epstein arrives before sunrise to organize gifts and review the inpatient hospital floors to visit. Soon after, others join her to prepare for the day. Wearing festive hats, this brigade of committed volunteers visits each floor, pushing carts loaded with teddy bears and blankets. One group, divided into teams of three or four, goes door to door to each patient room, while the other volunteers serve a special free catered lunch – all bringing holiday cheer to ensure patients and their families have a special Christmas Day despite being in the hospital. The makings of an MD Anderson tradition Epstein’s mother, Honey, began volunteering at MD Anderson in 1967 by organizing a weekly party for pediatric patients. When she found out there were no special plans for patients who were in the hospital for Christmas, she decided her family of four would come to visit. Her husband, Stan, and two teenage daughters, Fran and Susan, went from room to room to wish each patient a Merry Christmas. “The patients were surprised,” says Fran Epstein, recalling that first holiday. “They didn’t expect visitors.” The next year, more families wanted to help. They brought each patient a nutcracker, candy and newspaper. In later years, teddy bears were substituted for nutcrackers. She still remembers a patient who couldn’t talk following surgery. “He cried tears of joy after receiving that teddy bear,” she says. At first, Epstein’s dad nicknamed the group the Jewish brigade. As the years went on, people from all faiths joined in, so he renamed them the ecumenical brigade. “The patients in the hospital over the holiday often have...