Greenwich Hospital has a whopping 550 volunteers who log between 50,000 to 60,000 hours a year. Among the legions of volunteers are 34 dedicated women who run the hospital’s gift shop, working typically one day a week, for a four hour shift. There are also volunteer buyers for the various departments including babies, children, apparel, accessories and jewelry.
The shop is a hive of activity and there are always at least two volunteers on duty.
What’s unique among the gift shop volunteers is their loyalty. Nancy Chelwick, for example, has been working a weekly shift for over 30 years.
“I had a friend who worked here and she said, ‘Come join us,’ and that was that,” she recalled, adding she is also a member of the Altar Guild of Christ Church. “But people have volunteered longer than me,” she continued, adding that Sheila Prince has been volunteering 44 years.
“It’s fun,” Chelwick said by way of explanation for her decades in the gift shop. “And I have my Monday morning buddy, Helen LaGattuta. We’re like sisters. We have celebrations together, including birthdays.”
As Mrs. Chelwick gave a tour of the gift shop she complimented Jane Sims, a former buyer at Macy’s and Nine West who now volunteers as the shop accessories buyer.
“I shop here all the time,” Chelwick admitted, showing off a patterned scarf she had purchased from Sims’ accessories display. “I spend all my money here.”
Sims said she finds it gratifying to be able to help customers. “There have been people who come in for physical therapy or chemo and stop here afterward,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to spend time with them and get them something to make them feel better. That’s fun.”
Sims said often times customers come in and are pleased to spot an item they’ve seen in magazines or advertised from exclusive stores.
“It’s a very happy place,” she added. “The volunteers are happy to be here. And the people who come in shopping usually are happy. It’s a nice little corner of the hospital that’s uplifting.”
“A customer who came in last week for an infusion forgot to bring her blanket,” Sims recalled. “She came in for something to put on to keep her warm and found something in her favorite color, green.”
Mrs. Chelwick said she particularly enjoys helping grandparents who come into the shop for gifts for new grandchildren.
“We had a ’12 Days of Christmas balls’ during the holidays,” said Ann Martin. “A grandfather came in and was so excited because he had just had his twelfth grandchild and wanted the 12 days of Christmas for his grand baby.”
Ann Martin said she likes to help the customers who need some TLC. “They might have lost someone or be under care, so it’s nice to be able to spend some extra time with them. And it’s a nice distraction for them to maybe look at something pretty. They’re looking for a break.”
“The shop is also a good break for employees,” said gift shop coordinator Laurie Fletcher. “At 3:00pm there is a stream of employees.”
The Hospital’s Director of Volunteers Stacey Green said the gift shop volunteers are known to go above and beyond the call of duty.
“If a patient calls down and says, ‘Boy, I really want a pair of silver stud earrings,’ or ‘I really would love a Snickers bar,'” the volunteers will bring it up to them. “Some patients can’t come down here.”
Sprinkled among the merchandise are works from local artists including watercolors from Gary Calabro. The shop also sells cards featuring original photography by Emily Shapiro, a staff member in the Emergency Department.
A Greenwich-centric display features coasters, trays and etched bar glasses featuring each of Greenwich’s beaches and islands. There are also copies of Missy Wolf’s book, Hidden History of Colonial Greenwich.
The volunteers all said Fletcher has been an inspiration since she took on her post as gift shop coordinator two years ago.
“Since Laurie arrived, she’s brought in fresh new ideas and a really nice upbeat attitude that has reinvigorated the shop,” Green said.
Mrs. Green said a good number of people decide to volunteer in the gift shop because they’ve had a good experience at patients themselves.
“Some people want to give back to the hospital after having a good experience but might not feel comfortable being with patients. It’s a non-clinical way to care for patients and family instead of the bedside,” Green said. “Some people just love the shop and want to be a part of it.”
“So many departments embrace volunteers,” Green said. “That’s what keeps them coming. They feel they’re part of a team and are contributing.”
Green said the hospital is very grateful to its volunteers and hosts an annual luncheon at Greenwich Country Club during National Volunteer Appreciation Week.
Potential volunteers go to the hospital’s website and request an application. From there there is an interview process.
In 2018 the gift shop received an award from the Association for Healthcare Volunteers Resource Professionals (AHVRP) for Retail Excellence. The aware recognizes a retail shop in a healthcare setting which has resulted in exemplary results.
“What distinguished our shop as a winner is not just the look of the shop, but the overall team effort,” Green said, adding that the high ratio of volunteers to paid staff was a factor.
Click here for more information on the gift shop.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday
9:30 am – 7 pm
Tuesday and Thursday
7 am – 7 pm
10 am – 5 pm
Noon – 5pm
In-Hospital Delivery Hours
Monday – Friday
10 am – 4 pm
10:30 am – 4 pm