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Hospice store exceeding expectations

Katherine Morris
Photo by Lindsey RhynardManager Lara Moller rifles through donations
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Linda Orsi is fighting one of the toughest battles of her life.

After being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer a little over a month and a half ago, the North Lake Tahoe resident found herself suddenly facing a myriad of physical challenges and tough decisions.

Thankfully though, she does not have to brave the battle alone, for she has the support of Tahoe Forest Hospice, a program that provides end-of-life care for the terminally ill, as well as support services for family and friends.

“The people at hospice are willing to do anything and everything for you to make your last few months as nice as possible,” Orsi said as she rested on a chaise lounge in the sun. “You couldn’t find better people to take care of you. Truly, they are like angels on earth.”

Orsi is just one of the hundreds of patients to have utilized the services of the rapidly expanding Tahoe Forest Hospice program.

Last year alone, hospice staff and volunteers performed more than 1,100 visits to those in need, extended their service area to include the Eastern Plumas District Hospital and opened a successful thrift store in Truckee that continues to bring in roughly $10,000 in revenue each month.

“It was really quite a year for us,” said Hospice Coordinator Eileen Knudson. “Our average daily census nearly doubled between 2000 and 2001, and it’s already increased another 52 percent since the beginning of this year.”

This rapid increase is what spurred Hospice to open the thrift store on Meadow Way last Fourth of July.

“We needed to find a way to raise money for our patients since we’re only partially reimbursed by insurance companies for about 70 percent of our costs,” she said. “Since we’re not funded by the state unless we write grants, we’ve got to use fund-raising methods to come up with the other 30 percent.”

In addition to the routine home and medical care that the array of professionals and volunteers perform, Hospice also offers pain/symptom management, spiritual and grief counseling – both for patients and patients’ loved ones – and respite care to give full-time caregivers a much-needed break.

“We really try and take care of the whole person – the physical as well as the spiritual,” Knudson said.

Hospice also provides medicine, medical equipment and 24-hour on-call nursing services to ensure patients are as comfortable as possible during the last months of their lives.

While Knudson says the thrift store’s operating costs are high and the demands for volunteers omnipresent, the store has continued to be a tremendous success – so much so that Hospice is in the throws of opening a second store in Kings Beach.

“Our patient numbers are growing so quickly that we’ve got to find ways to keep up financially,” she said. “And, with the great community support that we’ve already received with the first store – everything from the outpouring of donations to the labor and materials for construction of the store itself – we feel that another location is a viable answer.”

According to the store’s Assistant Manager Laura Moller, the store has been inundated with donations since it opened a year ago.

“We get regular people who donate their prized possessions to the store and so many of the local businesses that donate new items to us – it’s really wonderful,” Moller said as she rummaged through garbage bags full of clothes and housewares in the store’s back room. “People are always amazed when they come in here and see the quality of our things. They always say, ‘This doesn’t smell like a thrift store.'”

What the store really needs at the moment are volunteers to staff the four-hour shifts each day.

“[Volunteers] are really the most important element of the store and this is such a great environment to work in,” she said. “Everyone knows each other. Volunteers and shoppers are always hugging and chatting. Everyone really cares about one another and feels good about what they’re doing here.”

Volunteers are also always needed for patient services and Hospice’s administrative office.

Knudson encouraged anyone who is interested to get involved.

“We really just want the community to know that we are them,” Knudson said. “The care we have to offer can be a great comfort to patients and their families – especially just knowing that they are not alone and have people that can help them.”

Tahoe Forest Hospice Thrift and Gift located on 10026 Meadow Way off Donner Pass Road. Store hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. everyday.

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering for Hospice, call 582-3534.


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