First published in the March 24 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
The idea was a simple one, small in scope. At least in the beginning. Virginia Schlueter Jones, from Mayfield Senior School’s Class of 1964, was thinking about her sister, who is a physician at a Kaiser clinic.
It was over the winter holidays, during the devastating COVID-19 surge. Jones recalled reading about how everyone in the medical profession was “so overworked and understaffed.”
The Kaiser clinic had about 35 people and she wondered what kind of small gesture she might be able to offer them. “Cookies,” was her very first thought. “It was just a nice idea… a way of saying thank you that seemed easy,“ she said.
Jones laughs when she utters the word “easy” though, because of how complicated the project would later become. Her sister appreciated the gesture but demurred, saying that her clinic had enough sweets to go around. However, there were plenty of places that really could use that goodwill.
That was when Jones set her sights on something bigger. Much bigger. What about Huntington Hospital? Members of her family had worked there, too. And during the pandemic, the hospital had been providing invaluable services for so long. What would it take to get everyone in the hospital some kind of sweet treat — to bake cookies for everyone?
Perhaps the funniest element of the undertaking was that Virginia has never been much of a baker.
“I don’t bake,” she admitted. In her family, she said it is her granddaughter who possesses that skill. “Grace makes the cookies,” she said.
This was when Jones started to involve her daughter Alison Jones Gamble, Mayfield’s Class of 1987, in addition to her granddaughter Grace Gamble, Mayfield Class of 2024.
Jones Gamble’s husband, who is the COO of the Hospital Association of Southern California, could help initiate some contact with the right person at Huntington Hospital for the endeavor. So, Jones reached out to her daughter and Carol Fitzsimmons, Mayfield’s director of community service, knowing that involvement from the Mayfield community could be make-or-break for her idea.
Jones also reached out to her fellow members of the Christ Child Society of Pasadena because she knew “those ladies are so generous and are always willing to help.”
At this point, Jones was thinking of giving a small bag of cookies to every staff member at the hospital — maybe six per bag. When Jones finally connected with Stacy Miller, director of volunteer services at Huntington, she learned there could be 1,900 people at the hospital on any given day. Six cookies per person meant 11,400 cookies to bake. Jones, her daughter and granddaughter had their work cut out for them.
Grace Gamble, a current Mayfield sophomore, found dozens of people on campus — students, faculty and staff — eager to participate. She set up a Google spreadsheet. She brought bags to fill, heart-shaped candies to include inside the bags and labels for the outside. She was amazed by how many people volunteered. “There were some speed bumps along the way, but it came together really fast,” she said.
With an army of student bakers and volunteers from Christ Child Society, Jones went to find a few more participants. Volunteers from Villa Gardens Retirement Community, Diggers Garden Club, St. Phillips Church and a few neighbors, her husband’s secretary and her own hairdresser volunteered to make cookies as well.
Everyone took on a small part of the massive undertaking. As for the three generations of Mayfielders? The trio decided to make Grace Gamble’s favorite cookie: a classic chocolate chip.
The real marvel of the undertaking was the enthusiasm of the participants. Mayfield’s director of community service leapt into action, coordinating much of the operational elements. Everyone from inside and outside the school was allowed to meet on the Mayfield campus on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 16.
Miller had gotten the numbers of people in every department, and Mayfield students would label every box, so that the sweets would arrive at their intended destinations. And between 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. that Wednesday, Mayfield students, alums and members of the Christ Child Society received and boxed every donation, putting together an assembly line of gratitude.
It took a large van and three SUVs to pack up all of the donations and, at midday, Jones and her granddaughter arrived at the hospital to share the love. Another student, Kara Garikian (Class of 2023) joined the group because she volunteers in the hospital, on the neuro-stroke unit.
When they arrived at the hospital, Miller was there to meet them, in addition to a member of the hospital communication team, Cassandra Coleman, who happened to be a Mayfield alum (Class of 2003), as well.
“I love being just a stones-throw away from my old high school,” she said. But on a much more serious note, Coleman was very grateful for a gesture like this because in her years working in the hospital, she had never imagined such a fractious moment, and this had been taking a toll.
Coleman praised the donation, saying it was much needed, and “so good for morale.” And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, Coleman said, “It’s Employee Gratitude Week.”
The vast majority of boxes were wheeled into the hospital by volunteers, to be distributed in an orderly fashion. However — following Huntington’s screening procedures — Mayfield students Grace Gamble and Garikian were allowed into the hospital for a few minutes as well, so Garikian could deliver the cookies to the neuro unit, where she works every Tuesday.
She talked about the joy of being able to deliver to her own nurses’ station. “A lot of the nurses are very tired and they work really hard,” Garikian said. “I’m happy to give them a little pick-me-up.”
Jones Gamble said that baking cookies was “so simple, per person.” But it’s what happens when all those small personal contributions get added together that makes the task much bigger.
Obviously, Jones wanted everyone in the hospital to enjoy their small bag of treats. But more importantly, she said she hopes the recipients will feel the appreciation and gratitude from so many in the community because behind those thousands of cookies, there were hundreds of hands — all baking for a labor of love.