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Toby's Take: Be a HERO, Break Bread

Volunteers at Hope Lodge

January 30, 2024

“A girl’s gotta eat,” a co-worker used to say to me, mouth full, slamming down half of a sandwich as she moved on to the next thing.

It’s true. We all need to eat food to survive. A bite here and there might keep us going on a hectic day. Where the real joy comes is when we can sit down with family or friends and actually enjoy it. To actually chew our food and playfully try not to laugh with our mouths full.

I’ve come to love the saying “it’s hard to keep our barriers up when we’re breaking bread together.” In the healthcare world, involving food is every bit as important, it seems to me, as the treatment plan.

This is where I’ll introduce Ronda Sprick, an IT application analyst at The University of Kansas Health System. She’s still a relative newbie. Sprick joined the health system in the summer of 2022. Not even a year in, she joined her co-workers to make a meal for Hope Lodge in Kansas City.

What is Hope Lodge?

Hope Lodge offers a free place to stay through the American Cancer Society for cancer patients and their caregivers who are coming in from out of town. We’re big fans of Hope Lodge. So much so, the health system named it the recipient of a cash donation we won through a friendly competition with another health system.

Several departments cook meals for Hope Lodge throughout the year. When it came time for Sprick’s team to participate, she joined it, loved it and decided to keep doing it on her own. Including picking up the tab herself.

“It’s not that much, and I have the opportunity to do it … and the time,” she told our team. “I look for places where I see a need – and I know my strengths – and I’m like, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ It ticks my boxes for the things I’m good at. Once I’m in, I’m in.”

Ronda has emerged as a highly sought-after volunteer for our guests, demonstrating remarkable reliability.” Barbie Todd

Assistant manager at Hope Lodge.

Rewards come in many forms

The health system recently recognized Sprick as a “HERO,” the name of a program that highlights employees who’ve gone above and beyond for our patients and the community.

Not only has Sprick discovered the magic of food as healing and barrier-breaking, she’s also gotten to know the patients. This is someone who works in IT, mind you. So coming into contact with patients and their families would normally not be a part of her work experience. But every other week, she’s making a meal to help these patients and families through another day. She also gets to witness what happens around a table: conversations about the day, laughter and the real pain of cancer treatment.

“There was one couple who came down from Warsaw, Missouri, and I said, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.’ And she said, ‘No, we’re leaving. The treatments are not working.’”

Sprick cried telling the story.

So many more of the meals are heartwarming. Or even funny. The first time out, she brought some items that didn’t go over that well. So she upped her game. From cereal and orange juice, she leveled up to her own concoction of potatoes, eggs and cheese, served alongside a French toast dish.

If your mouth is watering and your heart is warming from this story, as it is mine, you’ll in no way be surprised her every-other-Thursday breakfast is a hit at Hope Lodge. Patients and families ask her for her recipes.

And the rewards never end

“Ronda has emerged as a highly sought-after volunteer for our guests, demonstrating remarkable reliability,” said Barbie Todd, assistant manager at Hope Lodge.

“Hope Lodge is a great service that’s available and a lot of those folks are getting care at the health system, so it kind of forms a connection,” Sprick said. “If anybody is nervous about it, don’t be. It doesn’t have to be awesome. If you want to get a bunch to chip in for pizza, the effort is what’s measured most.”

Sprick is taking some time away this month but plans to keep bringing breakfast starting in March. She’s added bagels, yogurt and fruit to the menu, and who doesn’t love that?

The guests, indeed, love her food, almost as much as they love her.

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