Tonya and Rick Parsons do their part to help UK emergency room workers

Tonya Bumm Parsons and Rick Parsons wanted to do something to help health care workers in the emergency room at UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital.

With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading and emergency rooms around the globe pushed to their limits, the Lexington couple wanted to do their little part to say thank you for the work ER doctors and staff do around the clock.

Originally, the couple, both UK Fellows, Life Members of the UK Alumni Association and ER2ardent UK sports fans, wanted to donate meals to UK ER workers. When UK first halted outside food from coming in, they came up with the idea to purchase gift cards to be distributed to the ER doctors and staff.

“We started thinking about what we could do to show our appreciation to the hospital ER employees and just take a little off their plate,” says Tonya Parsons, who graduated from UK with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1990 from the UK College of Arts & Sciences. “So instead of having food brought in, we thought of gift cards so they can pick up food on their way home.”

They accept donations to purchase $20 gift cards to various locally owned restaurants around Lexington, including Chick-fil-a, Schlotzsky’s and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. Once they have raised $1,500, they purchase cards and deliver them to the assistant medical director of the UK Department of Emergency Medicine at his home. This limits outside exposure for everyone, and Rick Parsons points out that all the cards are in zipped bags, and those bags are sanitized before delivery.

“And we’re very flexible with what the workers want. If they want Panera, we’ll get Panera. Whatever they want,” he says.

ER3In mid-April, the Parsons were finally allowed to have food delivered to the emergency room departments at Chandler and Good Samaritan hospitals. They fed the departments for three days from various caterers and will do either catering or gift cards going forward based on the ER Director’s recommendation.

As of Monday, May 4, they had collected more than $13,000 towards the project, a number far more than what they anticipated at the start.

“I texted a few people for feedback, and within minutes I knew this had legs,” Rick Parsons says. “We established a private Facebook page (Feed UK Hospital ER) and thought if we could get 30 or 40 people donating $20 apiece we could really make an impact. The response was well beyond that.

“We’ve already delivered five batches of cards in less than two weeks. It’s a lot bigger than what I expected, but it’s great. If we can do anything to help them and make it easier for them and show they are doing a good job, that’s what we wanted to do.”

According to posts on the Facebook group page, others have held their own fundraisers for the cause. In one case, someone posted about children holding a car wash that raised $110.

One lady, whose daughter is an ER worker, also offered this testimonial: “Thank you, Rick and Tonya. My daughter is working a 12-hour shift at the UK GSH ED today. I know they all continue to appreciate everyone’s gratitude.”

The Facebook page also serves as a place where the Parsons can post each and every receipt for the gift cards.

“We are trying to be as transparent as we can make it,” Rick Parsons says. “We try to get an accounting update every day. We want people to be comfortable and show that each and every dollar donated goes straight to the department.”

With the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down soon, the Parsons say they will keep this going.

“We’ll keep doing it as long we need to,” Rick Parsons says.

Tonya Parsons says it would be wonderful if another group would “pick up the gauntlet” and help health care workers in other areas at UK or another local hospital.

But even after life returns to normal, Tonya Parsons says they want to do something to regularly show appreciation to the ER workers.

“Maybe get back to what we talked about originally doing and modeling it after the Catholic Action Center, which is ongoing,” says Tonya Parsons, who volunteers at the CAC.

Says Rick Parsons, “If we can feed the ER staff once or twice a week, we’ll do that.”

— Story by Hal Morris

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