Changes are coming to Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center’s “Pink Smock” gift shop, which was started in the old hospital in Hanover in 1971, expanded at the Lebanon location and soon will include a website for easy ordering and delivery.
The nonprofit shop, a program of the medical center’s volunteer services department, is staffed by more than 60 volunteer cashiers and buyers, many of them women, who are involved in “shared governance” decisions about how the shop will raise money and how that money will be distributed, according to Andrea Henry, the director of volunteer services.
To get a sense of the shop’s history, I interviewed longtime volunteer Barbara Blough, who had begun volunteering at the hospital on weekends even before she retired from heading up alumni affairs for Dartmouth Medical School in 1990.
She said women volunteers were called “Pink Smockers,” since their coats, designating their status, are pink. (The men wear red ones.)
Blough joined the shop’s volunteer buyers, who went to gift shows in Boston and New York to choose jewelry, cards and toys. Of course, vendors also came to the shop to meet the buyers.
Then, at the monthly meetings, each buyer would report on each category of shop purchases. If items did well, more were ordered. The buyers each had an allocation of shelf space and stocked it themselves.
When the hospital moved to its current location, Blough proposed expanding the shop to use even more space. When the Dartmouth Bookstore left its space at the hospital, she proposed taking over that, as well.
“I loved working in the shop and going to New York City for shopping,” said Blough, who has now retired from volunteering at age 90.
“I think it’s a great experience to see people in their happiest moods greeting a new baby, or to help someone going through the worst time of their life. You are far enough removed; they can share something with you,” she said.
Catering to Customers
With the goal of raising $200,000 a year from the gift shop, much is on the line here.
There is a Gift Shop Committee of approximately 50 volunteers, mainly women, who direct the operation of the shop and the volunteers are in on every decision. The volunteer buyers purchase gifts, restock the store and, to quote the training manual, stay aware of “buying patterns, customer requests, and demographics of the shop’s customer base in making decisions regarding merchandise purchases.”
They want to please both visitors and patients at the hospital, and the hospital staff, as well.
With more than 6,000 employees, there are many ready customers and the volunteers have taken surveys and requests to cater to them.
Of course, all of this requires an organizer — Kristen Brooker, who was working in advancement at Dartmouth College, has been the shop’s manager for 18 months and said she feels she has brought a new look to the operation. After all, she had spent 17 years in retail with Estee Lauder.
At the shop, she orders patient amenities and oversees much of the other buying, as well. She is planning the new website, which will feature gift baskets and seasonal items.
“I have been fortunate to have the support and the team behind me to create all these fresh and new changes,” she said.
Right now, Brooker is focused on a gift-buying trip with volunteers to Atlanta and the stationery show in New York City.
Thousands in Grants
Money raised by the gift shop is distributed by the Grants Committee, which is made up of 12 members from the Volunteer Leadership Board.
Curt Ward, who led the board for two years, said all Dartmouth-Hitchcock departments are asked for grant requests during the summer and the board meets in the fall to review them.
There may be as many as 40 requests, and the board sends out volunteers to meet with the departments and then report back.
The largest grant — $40,000 — usually is for nursing scholarships. The Office of Professional Nursing chooses the candidates, giving about $2,000 each to 20 people.
Ward said he wanted “to help people in their time of need,” and said the grants can make the difference for people to access services.
The process, he said, made him feel “that we are part of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center family.”
Henry, the volunteer services director, said there always is a need for volunteers. Considerable training is provided.
“The dedication of the volunteers is incredible,” Ward added, “and I just enjoy it.”
Gift shop volunteers may still wear their pink smocks, but now they will do so under a new name: The Gift Shop at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.