We should all have a best friend like Lisa Eisenbach. We should all be a best friend like Lisa Eisenbach, as well.
When Kim Mardini-Channer was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, after thinking she might just have a readily treatable bowel obstruction, she immediately called her dearest friend, Ms. Eisenbach, who wanted to be supportive at such a critical time. But because this wasn’t a situation involving a family member, Ms. Eisenbach’s supervisor wouldn’t let her leave work early. What happened next?
Ms. Eisenbach quit her job.
And ultimately, she founded an organization that provides food, hygiene products, and support to patients who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Nightingales Harvest is celebrating its third anniversary today.
Nightingales Harvest, according to its own information materials, “serves all cancer families in NW Ohio and SE Michigan. [It] serves the whole family with supplies for good nutrition, infection control, to lessen the financial burden and bridge more families over to survivorship.”
That’s a very formal way of saying that the organization helps to make cancer patients’ lives “a little more whole,” says Ms. Eisenbach.
In trying to help her friend, Ms. Eisenbach — a nurse herself, who felt she knew a great deal about treating cancer — learned that there are many neglected areas once a person receives a diagnosis. Medical bills consume household budgets, including grocery money. Illness and exhaustion prevent the preparation of meals, and patients appetites and tastes are often altered. The risk of infection to those with compromised immune systems during treatment is very high.
And so, in memory of her best friend, one woman sought to close some of the gaps for her friend and for others in need. “We all have to start looking at this Grand Canyon gap. It can’t just be about research; it has to be about humanitarian effort,” says Ms. Eisenbach.
She believes firmly that “Positive Attitude Changes Everything,” and has this slogan printed on informational materials and on buttons to distribute. And her positive attitude is contagious, such that in only three years Nightingales Harvest has grown to have a 10-member board and to hold several fund-raisers each year.
But Nightingales Harvest doesn’t just provide a haven for cancer patients and their families. Those who can’t come to the food pantry to select groceries can receive deliveries which are brought by volunteers from Aspiring Hands, an adult day program allowing those who are, in Ms. Eisenbach’s words, “developmentally capable” to be of service. And those receiving assistance from the state of Ohio can earn community service hours by working in the office and in the pantry.
Food donations come from many area businesses and supporters, including the Seagate Food Bank, the Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, church- and school-based food drives, even the Campbell’s Soup Company. Board president Keith McCall says that “Donations are the biggest thing,” since the organization’s resources then don’t have to be used or depleted.
Maximizing donations and attracting generous people seem to be among Ms. Eisenbach’s great talents. Initially, she sought to help her friend; then, as Mr. McCall said, she “picked up some more families along the way.” The support system began in Ms. Eisenbach’s basement, then the food pantry ultimately relocated to the back offices at St. James Lutheran Church. But the space needed renovation.
So Ms. Eisenbach became a contestant on Shark Tank, a reality show on which contestants compete to have projects funded. She won the grand prize of $10,000; but a contractor hired to do the construction work then donated his labor and services, in addition to seeking similar donations from other businesses, enabling Nightingales Harvest to use its money to help patients and their families instead.
The white van which is used for picking up supplies and for making deliveries was also donated, by a patient who was grateful for the organization’s assistance during his own cancer treatments. The lettering to put Nightingales Harvest’s logo on the van was a gift, as well. The easily recognized van “sure has made things a lot easier for us,” says board member Rodger Green.
Friendly people are needed to greet families and to help them select food items. Nightingales Harvest earns money from recycling; clean metal cans can be dropped off at the program’s office for sorting. Those with time to clip coupons, which help Ms. Eisenbach to save money while shopping for supplies, can socialize while cutting on-site or can take them home and then return them when finished with the task. Donations of nutritious non-perishable food and garden bounty are always appreciated.
And if you’ve got money, Ms. Eisenbach has a “wish list” for today’s anniversary: the property just a few hundred yards away along Sylvania Avenue, in the 4800 block, which would be ideal for a Nightingales Harvest recycling center and commercial greenhouse. The plans and dreams are already in place; the $49,000 required to purchase the property isn’t. But Ms. Eisenbach believes “in the power of people coming together” to care for families who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
After losing his parents, two cousins, and a sister-in-law to cancer, Mr. Green gets “such a warm feeling” from helping in whatever capacity he’s needed -- picking up supplies, delivering items, selecting groceries, or just listening and supporting families. “Any way we can help out so people can eat,” he says; but “there are so many other benefits than just feeding people.”
Mr. Green wrote this poem, entitled “Volunteering,” about the work he does with Nightingales Harvest. It is offered in memory of his wife Carolyn, whom he lost three weeks after her cancer diagnosis.
Here it is many years after,Jesus gave you a new life,I’m getting used to being alone,And you not being my wife. I found a food bank to help,to do something in memory of you,It’s a food bank for cancer families,I deliver food to help them make it thru.
I hear so many stories,Of all the treatments they have had,Being able to take them food,Makes me feel so glad. I say a special prayer all the time,Some days it makes me sob,One day they will find a cure,And Lisa will say, “You’re out of a job.”