Today is a Good Day Founder Martha Sharkey and her daughter, Claire, delivered Thanksgiving meals to families with babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Abington Hospital. From left: Martha Sharkey, Claire Sharkey, Michele Walker, Nurse Manager for the Special Care Nursery, Angie Bush, The Fresh Market floral specialist, and Luz Borges, Special Care Nursery Team Member.

by Sue Ann Rybak

The young father’s face was beaming as he chatted about his 3-month-old son Ethan who laid sleeping against his chest in a baby carrier while they shopped in Chestnut Hill on Small Business Saturday. The new parents had just celebrated their first Thanksgiving and were excited about spending the holidays together as a family.

The holiday season can be an exciting time for most new parents, but for those with a child still in the hospital, an already difficult situation can become overwhelming. Thanks to local nonprofit Today is a Good Day and Fresh Market in Chestnut Hill, 175 families with premature or sick babies at eight area hospitals, including Abington Jefferson Health, Einstein Health (Montgomery and Philadelphia locations), Holy Redeemer Hospital, Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Delaware County Memorial Hospital, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Virtua Hospital, had one less thing to worry about this Thanksgiving holiday – dinner.

Wyndmoor resident Martha Sharkey, co-founder of Today is a Good Day, said Fresh Market, at 8208 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill, provided the meals in bags (each family received a bag containing four meals) “which included everything you need for Thanksgiving dinner – turkey breast, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and rolls.”

Sharkey said it was after she and her husband Paul’s “NICU journey” that they recognized families lacked the emotional and financial support needed during this difficult time in their life. She recalled visiting their 23-week-old preemie twin daughters Claire and Mary after their birth on Nov. 14, 2010.

“I remember we were exhausted,” she said. “We came home from the NICU on Thanksgiving and were able to just sit and eat a meal that my mother had prepared for us. We were very blessed to have my parents with us over the Thanksgiving holiday, but not all families have that support system in place, nor do they feel like they want to go to another families’ home. Everyone has such a personal journey through the neonatal intensive care unit. We wanted to help the families by providing these meals. We were really excited to launch this project last year, and we are excited to go from 61 meals to 175 meals in a year.

The preemie miracle who inspired Today is a Good Day, Claire Sharkey (left), and Angie Bush, The Fresh Market floral specialist, help to prepare Thanksgiving meals for delivery to families with babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at area hospitals.

“We were thrilled to partner with Fresh Market this year. They are great partners with Today is a Good Day. They were wonderful to work with and prepare so many meals for families – especially during one of their busiest weeks. It was a wonderful experience working with them and we look forward to partnering with them again next year.”

Northeast Philadelphia resident Lisa Innauato, whose family received one of the packages, said the Thanksgiving meals they received from the organization meant so much to them.

“I had mentally prepared that we would be in the NICU for Thanksgiving and vividly remember telling my family Thanksgiving was canceled this year,” said Innauato, whose daughter was born at 37 weeks. “I always hosted Thanksgiving, but mentally I wasn’t ready to prepare a meal for my family, while my daughter was in the hospital. It simply did not feel right.”

The mother of a 9-year-old son said she was “speechless” when she received the cooked meal from the NICU nurses at Holy Redeemer.

“I couldn’t believe someone was so kind to think of families that would be in the NICU over Thanksgiving,” she said.

Innauato, whose daughter Sofia Rose weighted just 4 pounds, 5 ounces at birth, said the meal was more than just food.

“It was the thought, kindness and generosity of strangers who made it so special,” she said. “We were just so thankful for everyone’s generosity, especially towards people they have never met.

“Our daughter was released from the hospital the evening before Thanksgiving. The four of us were able to sit down as a family, minus any stress of having to run to the supermarket the night before Thanksgiving. We ate the food on Thanksgiving as a family, and it was an amazing feeling. My heart and stomach were beyond full.”

Visit Today is a Good Day’s website for more information. Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at 215-248-8804 or sueann@chestnuthilllocal.com

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