Almost any day of the week, you can find one of five friends volunteering in the gift shop at the Baton Rouge General Mid City.
Elouise Shaw is a retired educator. Pauline Parish worked for 43 years as a financial analyst for Ethyl Corp. Dee McKnight was secretary of the Family Practice Unit at Earl K. Long Medical Center, and Natalie Roumain was a vice president of Capital Bank. They, along with Gloria Anderson, a housewife, have become close through their work at the hospital, where, to date, they have volunteered a total 41,263 hours.
Parish, 89, has more than 12,000 hours of volunteer service.
“I started in 1992 when I was just a child,” she joked. “It’s all been in the gift shop, and I love every day of it. You meet so many friends all over the hospital.”
Anderson has more than 10,000 hours.
“I have been at the hospital for almost 50 years, about 30 years in the gift shop,” she said. “My mother volunteered. When they traveled, I filled in for her. That got me started.”
In those days, the gift shop was small. “It started off with a cigar box (for the money),” Parish said.
The shop, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, was originally owned by the Baton Rouge General Volunteer Auxiliary.
“The auxiliary started it to benefit the families of the patients,” McKnight said.
She has volunteered at the hospital since 1997.
“My husband was a patient here for a long time,” she said. “He said when I get well I am going to volunteer. I bring him spiritually with me when I come.”
In earlier years, the auxiliary would have large silver teas where guests could make donations at the end of the receiving line.
“We would buy sheets and pillows for the hospital. Everything went to the hospital,” Anderson said.
Now the hospital owns the gift shop, said Roumain, who served on the hospital board for about 25 years and on the foundation board from the time the foundation was formed.
“I retired from the bank in December 1993 and went to work in the volunteer office of the hospital Jan. 1, 1994.
“I was already on the hospital board,” she said. All five of the women have served on the auxiliary board.
Anderson started at the hospital in the ICU waiting room.
“It was in the basement,” she said. “I was there for a number of years. At one board meeting they said they needed workers in the gift shop. I said that would be fun.”
In the early days, the gift shop really sold gifts, lovely gifts, Parish said.
Often people would come from the community just to buy gifts.
“One lady would come in with her list,” McKnight said. “She wanted it all wrapped. We’d wrap everything for her.”
“We used to have crystal and silver,” Roumain said. “Now we have everything but gifts.”
These days, the shop is more of a boutique, Shaw said. Most of the merchandise is more practical.
“We even sell scrubs,” Roumain said.
“And shoes,” Shaw said.
“We are mainly here for the patients and their families,” said McKnight, who recalls a recent patient, a young man who had an accident while driving an 18-wheeler through the area.
“He didn’t have any family with him,” she said. “He came down to the gift shop. He needed a razor and shaving cream and didn’t have any with him.”
McKnight went to the nearby Dollar Store and bought what the man needed.
“We do a lot of PR,” she said.
“We’re the first thing people see when they come into the hospital,” Parish said.
Even though the auxiliary no longer owns the gift shop, its members get to choose how the profits are spent. The auxiliary gets a wish list from the hospital and selects items to purchase with its funds.
“The total contribution from the volunteer auxiliary since this was first documented in 2004 has been a little over $2 million,” said Maryann Rowland, Baton Rouge General Medical Center marketing and public relations specialist.
The auxiliary has regular meetings as well as luncheons and field trips.
“We don’t come for the perks,” Parish said. “They are lagniappe.”
Shaw said that volunteers in the gift shop see their work as a ministry.
“Some people come in browsing who really just want to talk,” she said. “They need a little outlet, just an ear.”
“Some people come in just to kill some time, to get away from the hospital room a while,” Anderson said. “They like to talk about their situation.”
“We always end it with, ‘We’ll be praying for your patient,’ ” Roumain said.