By Doug Brunk, San Diego Bureau
For as long as she can remember, Dr. Amy Kossoff has helped people less fortunate than she.
“I was one of these kids who had probably an overdeveloped sense of justice in elementary school,” said Dr. Kossoff, an internist who practices at Healthcare for the Homeless in Washington. “I was getting in trouble for defending the underdog. A close friend of mine always says to me, 'Your empathy is your best and your worst quality.'”
During her internal medicine residency, Dr. Kossoff would often foot the bill for patients who could not afford the $5 for their Medicare prescription each month. After residency, she began working with indigent and homeless patients and continued to give money to those who were struggling to get by: about $10,000 after only a few years of practice. “It was $81 here, $22 there,” she recalled. “It was all very small amounts of money, but usually it kept somebody in their home or bought them medicine.”
In 2001, she and five other women formed Womenade, a group that throws potluck parties at least twice a year to raise money for needy people in the Washington area. Dr. Kossoff hosts each potluck at her home and most times 40–50 women attend. The minimum donation is $35, but most women give more, she said.
The group raised about $6,000 at their potluck in May. “It's unpredictable how much money we'll get at each party because it [depends] on how many people can attend,” she said. “Somehow the money always lasts about 6 months.”
After each potluck, Dr. Kossoff serves as the point person for distributing the money. She confers with her network of social workers at area medical clinics that serve the indigent and homeless to locate recipients. “I generally try to keep somebody between me and the requests,” she said.
The group also helped one man pay for dentures he couldn't afford on his own.
“For some reason, everybody thinks that because it's called Womenade that we give money only to women,” she said. “That's not true. We just have only women at our parties.”
In 2002, Real Simple magazine ran a story about Womenade. The exposure led to the creation of similar programs in 28 states. “A lot of the groups that spring up don't have a point person like me,” Dr. Kossoff said. “A lot of them either choose an individual charity or go to a shelter and say, 'Let us know about individuals who need money.' I'm a good point person because all of my patients are either homeless or extremely poor.”
It's fitting that Real Simple profiled the group, she noted, because she considers the mission of Womenade as simple. “We started it as a very simple thing, and I would like it to stay that way,” she said. “It shows me that people would like to give but they don't have time to volunteer. This is an easy way to help.”
The time burden on Dr. Kossoff is also minimal. The married mother of three children estimates that she spends about a half hour a month writing checks for Womenade. She also devotes some time to readying her house for each potluck party. “But I hardly think of that as work,” she said. “The party is fun.”
Building Up His Hometown
Dr. Nestor P. Sanchez has always had a heart for helping disadvantaged children. For summer vacations during his residency training in dermatology and dermatopathology in Boston at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and later during his fellowship in dermatopathology at the Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education, in Rochester, Minn., he would lead a group of about 30 children from his hometown of Aibonito, Puerto Rico, to see the sights of New York City.
One year, they attended a Mets game. Another year, they took in a Yankees game. In between were tours of such sights as the Statue of Liberty and the United Nations, and a jaunt to Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, N.J.
To pay for the children's expenses, Dr. Sanchez, who is married and has three children of his own, sought donations from friends in Aibonito. He put up all the other money. “These were poor children,” he said. “I would take some of their parents as well.”
But Dr. Sanchez's charitable efforts did not stop there. After he completed his training at the Mayo Clinic, he returned to Aibonito to practice dermatology and founded La Sociedad Integra de Aiboniteños, which provides social services to poor children in the area.