CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — What started as an emergency trip to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has turned into an annual pilgrimage for Middle Township’s DeVico family, as their way to help other parents through a difficult time.
This year, Jeff and Michelle DeVico will deliver multiple boxes of sample-sized personal hygiene products to the hospital for use by parents and family members who have a child undergoing surgery at CHOP.
“It was 2010 when our son, Jay, was diagnosed with a brain tumor,” Michelle said. “We didn’t know it then, but it was an emergency — he was swept up from Cape May Court House to the hospital.”
That was April 15, Jeff said. Jay was in surgery a day later. There was no time to pack and really no thought of the need to throw a few personal items into a bag.
“We went up there thinking it was going to be for a day,” Jeff said. “But it turned into a week.”
The DeVicos didn’t leave the hospital for the week while their son recovered from the operation, and they found themselves depending on a small basket of personal items — such as toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant — that was donated by hospital staff and left in the Connelly Center, an area for parents waiting for news of their loved ones.
“There are seven bedrooms and a bathroom there,” Michelle said. “They (the hospital) provide linens. Nothing else.”
Other than the donations left in the Connelly Center by the staff, the DeVicos had no way to wash away each day’s worry, frustration and anxiety.
“As a person that had to use it, those donated personal products were invaluable,” Jeff said. “Sometimes a shower was just what we needed at the time. When you get swept away like that — I didn’t have a toothbrush, toothpaste.”
The DeVicos were less than 100 miles from their home in Middle Township, and knew they could go home for supplies if they wanted to, but believed it was right to stay at the hospital for the duration of their son’s recovery.
“We were 90 minutes away,” Jeff said. “But we met parents there who were from all over the country — all over the world. And when you’re there, the last thing you want to do is spend money on deodorant.”
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Jay was still a student in Middle Township public schools when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and this year the young man went off to college. But the experience at the hospital never really left Jay, Michelle said, and three years ago it was Jay who began the drive to gather personal hygiene products to donate to the hospital.
“We do it because Jay wanted us to do it,” Michelle said. “We do it because the community helped us, and now we want to pay it forward.”
Since then, the DeVicos, who own Klenswhite Pools in Rio Grande, have yearly tried to fill a hot tub with sample-sized personal hygiene products. In addition to customers dropping donations of shampoos, toothpaste and brushes into the hot tub, local hotels, too, send over boxes of personal hygiene products at the end of the summer season.
“The Lark in Stone Harbor and the Pan American in Wildwood Crest have really helped,” Michelle said. “We also posted to Facebook, and we tell our family and friends, and they bring in supplies.”
This year, sometime in early September, a group of Middle Township National Honor Society students will help the DeVicos sort the supplies into small bags, and then box everything up for a trip to CHOP.
“We don’t do this for the publicity,” Jeff said.
“We do this to help people,” Michelle said. “This was something that helped us when we needed it.”
“And it’s cool to be able to give back,” Jeff added.