Book of Dreams

Cart with a Heart brings joyful respite to the families of hospitalized kids

For the past 10 months, Susan Deal Pederson has spent nearly every day on the seventh floor of the UC Davis Medical Center, sitting beside her grandson, Chaz, who is being treated for brain cancer.

The 5-year-old has received chemotherapy and radiation treatments and recently battled a nearly fatal fungal infection caused by his weakened immune system.

“No parent or grandparent should ever have to go through something like this,” said Pederson, who lives in Pollock Pines along with her daughter Tiffany and Chaz.

But she credits the staff at UCD for providing excellent care and the Ronald McDonald House, a non-profit located on the hospital campus, for offering temporary lodging for 40 families each night – including Pederson and her daughter – so they don’t have to drive back home each night.

And she offers special praise for a relatively new Ronald McDonald program, Cart with a Heart, that has volunteers wheeling a goodies-laden wagon through the hospital’s pediatrics wings a couple of times a week.

The hospitality cart provides coffee, tea, cookies and pretzels to the families of sick kids, and also has puzzles and coloring books for young visiting siblings.

“When that cart comes around, it’s comforting to know that somebody really cares,” Pederson said. “They always have a smile for you. It’s heart warming.”

The service started almost two years ago with a small cart, said Vanessa Martinez, Ronald McDonald’s volunteer services coordinator. The idea was to bring a quick pick-me-up to parents who often are reluctant to leave their kids’ bedsides for even a short break.

“We come to their doors and say, ‘Here you are. Get whatever you like.’ They are so, so thankful. It means so much to them to not have to leave” their rooms, Martinez said.

A new, larger cart was acquired last summer. Now Ronald McDonald House is asking Book of Dreams for funds to buy another cart, for use likely at Sutter Hospital, the first step in a possible expansion aimed at installing cart operations at every Sacramento hospital.

The volunteers who operate the cart say they are motivated by the joy they see on parents’ faces when they make their rounds.

One of them, Terrilyn Salter, has been volunteering for almost a year following her retirement.

“When you give a cup of coffee or hot chocolate to someone on the floor and see how appreciative they are for something we take for granted, it’s absolutely wonderful,” she said.

Another volunteer, Shelbie Allen, recalled a recent visit to the pediatric intensive care unit on the hospital’s 10th floor. A woman had been staying at the bedside of her granddaughter for 24 straight hours.

“She asked for a cup of coffee and you could tell she was already on the verge of tears,” said Allen, who works full time as a nursing assistant at Sutter but still finds time to volunteer with the cart program.

She told Allen: ‘You don’t know how much this means to me. I know it’s just a cup of coffee but it means the world to me.”

As the cart was going through the 7th floor a week ago, Audria Chatman, 30, came up to get a cup of coffee.

She and her two children were struck by a car while crossing a street in south Sacramento in October. All three were hospitalized but only 2-year-old Mi’Goddess remains at UCD.

The visits from the Cart with a Heart team help her make it through the ordeal.

“It’s a good feeling to have somebody come to you and ask you do you need anything,” she said. “They’re always warm and welcoming.”

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