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Volunteer Spotlight on Tom McMahon, Cape Keepsakes Gift Shop Volunteer

Community news | Friday, November 18, 2022

Contact: Public Relations

After thirty-five years as a high school English Teacher, Tom McMahon retired, sold his home in Lansdale, PA and moved to North Cape May to enjoy his retirement on the beach. Like many new retirees, Tom found that free time was more plentiful than any meaningful activity.

Tom said, “I could only watch TV for so many hours and it terrified me that QVC was becoming interesting.”

If you don't use it, you lose it, is a phrase most seniors know, and Tom was concerned that he was falling into a rut. He decided to volunteer at Cape Regional Medical Center as a way of keeping sharp. “The first thing I learned was that really, really, nice people volunteer. I found every week, as I was leaving the building, I was smiling and grateful for the experience as a volunteer.”

In January 2020, the pandemic was in full swing and out of a sense of caution, the volunteer program was suspended, and the volunteers found themselves with an empty space on their calendars.

“I learned quickly how unhealthy it is to be alone all the time. As much as I tried to stay engaged and challenged, Judge Judy was becoming a growing and unwelcome part of my life. Luckily, one day while I was searching YouTube for something positive, I came across a video of the Mr. Rogers show that was broadcast just after September 11th. In the broadcast, Mr. Rogers suggested that when things get scary, we should look to the helpers. He said look for the people who are trying to make things better. If you do that, it will give you hope.”

In response to this, Tom looked at Cape Regional Medical Center. He also knew that we were seeing the emergence of something new and incredible in Cape May County. Each day a group of our neighbors left their families and put their lives at risk to help the rest of us. “What the staff at Cape Regional was doing was overwhelming to me.”

“I wanted to help. I needed to help but as a senior with all the typical ailments, anything with direct contact just wasn't smart. Luckily, in my youth, I developed an appreciation for the power and importance of prayer. This was something I could do. I could pray.”

Starting in mid-March 2020, every Sunday morning at 11:00AM Tom would park his car in the hospital parking lot and quietly pray for the people working inside.

“It was such a perfect spot to sit every week for about an hour where no one ever bothered me, and I could almost feel the energy coming from inside. I knew there were no visitors so I would pray for each car. I would just imagine who drove each car and that helped make my prayer more personal.” Tom said, “You can imagine how, after praying for the staff there they became heroes to me. Week after week, they never gave up. They're just incredible.”

Tom said, “It was a way for me to feel like I was doing something. I always left the parking lot filled with hope. Mr. Rogers was right.”

After his second vaccine shot Tom called Ray Wisniewski, the Director of Volunteers to tell him he was ready to come back to in-person volunteering. It seemed somehow appropriate that Tom ended up with a shift In the Cape Keepsakes Gift Shop on Sunday mornings at 11:00AM.

“When I got back inside, I realized that the staff in the covid ward were really isolated and couldn't get to the Gift Shop to grab a snack, so I started baking for them. Sunday mornings for over a year, when I arrived for my shift, I would drop off a batch of cupcakes or cookies for the staff in the covid ward and the staff in Emergency who are in the very front of the front line. Heroes indeed.”

Tom said, “It’s important to me that the staff know that there are people who really appreciate what they do, so because I volunteer in the Gift Shop, I started baking an extra batch of goodies so anyone who stopped in the Gift Shop could get a treat too.

“I really enjoy volunteering. It makes me feel like I still have a contribution to make, and the compassion and professionalism of the staff is palpable and contagious.”

“Even though I've been back volunteering in person for more than a year, every Sunday when I finish my shift and I'm pulling out of the parking lot, the same words come into my head, God, keep them safe. Keep them strong and unafraid. God, keep them safe”.

Thank you to Tom and all the heroes at Cape Regional Medical Center, and all our dedicated volunteers.