Five years ago this week, a group of community leaders, hospital volunte
ers and staff, and other supporters came together with an NBA basketball player to participate in a ribbon cutting for a new venture for Lawrence Memorial Hospital: Mario’s Closet.
Mario’s Closet opened at LMH with the idea of creating a special place for people going through cancer treatment by providing affordable options for wigs, prosthetics, post-surgical garments, lymphedema sleeves and gloves.
Five years of hope and healing
Almarie Chalmers with Big Jay
The community is invited to help celebrate the fifth anniversary of Mario’s Closet on Friday. There will be some important guests, including Mario Chalmers’ mother, Almarie, and the Big Jay mascot from Kansas University. Come enjoy free refreshments and door prizes, view the Gallery of Hope and get a photo taken with Big Jay. The event begins with a short presentation at 4 p.m. in the West lobby at LMH.
The idea of Mario’s Closet was developed when former KU basketball player Mario Chalmers joined the NBA and started his charitable foundation as a way to give back. His goal was to make cancer patients feel like themselves again. Chalmers’ desire to help people who have had a cancer diagnosis stems from a longtime friendship. His best friend’s mother, Pauline Peterson, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. “Miss Pauline” was like a second mother to Chalmers. She lost her battle with the disease in 2006.
The Mario V. Chalmers Foundation provided the initial funding to the LMH Endowment Association to build the specialty shop within the hospital. Mario’s Closet also is a nice place to shop for healthy lifestyle items, hats, cards, journals and more.
Many of the 12 volunteers who staff the shop are cancer survivors themselves. Customers often find that it is helpful to make a connection with someone who has gone through what they are going through. The success of Mario’s Closet lies in the personal connections people make.
Another unique thing about Mario’s Closet is the vendors who have been partners since the store opened five years ago. Criticare Home Health Services is the vendor that provides expertise with prosthetic fitting and bra fitting. Some of the items that Criticare provides are paid for by insurance.
Even though Criticare is located close to the hospital geographically, their professional fitters will meet a customer at Mario’s Closet to provide a fitting service. The intent is that customers may be at the hospital for a treatment or an appointment, so if we can make things easier for them by providing a service here rather than making them drive and park again, then we have met our goal.
Cosmetologist Shelly Hoggatt is the wig fitter partner. Hoggatt can meet customers at Mario’s Closet to help them try on wigs and can place an order for a particular color or hairstyle to match what the customer prefers.
“There is nothing more fulfilling than making someone feel good about how they look,” Hoggatt said. She also works with the American Cancer Society and is able to provide a free wig for customers who are currently undergoing cancer treatment.
It is not unusual for a customer to come into the shop in distress because she is losing her hair due to chemotherapy treatments. The compassionate volunteers and staff are many times able to help that person with a wig, scarf or hat to make them feel better and to ease their mind.
The goal, and we believe what Mario Chalmers intended, was to remove barriers and provide support for people who are facing a lot of challenges. Deb Boyle, a breast cancer survivor and customer of the shop, summed it up best by saying, “Mario’s Closet was and still is a balm for my soul and a comfort I cannot describe.”
For more information or to learn how you can support Mario’s Closet, visitwww.lmhendowment.org/marios-closet.
— Allyson Leland is Director of Volunteer Services at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, a major sponsor of WellCommons.