Pediatrics donor goes public, urges others to ‘pay it forward’

     PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Seven years ago, Lori McGillan, a Fort Fairfield native who now lives in Texas, shipped a large box containing 28 hooded towels that she made for The County’s youngest patients to family friend Dr. Jay Reynolds, vice president and chief medical officer at The Aroostook Medical Center.  She did so in honor of and appreciation for the medical providers and team that took care of her brother, well-known and highly respected Fort Fairfield businessman Fred “JR” McGillan, who, in 2008, had surgery at TAMC to have a kidney removed.

Just like her brother and the rest of the McGillan family who take to heart the importance of giving back to their community, she didn’t stop giving after that first box.  In fact, she began a seasonal tradition that has Aroostook Pediatrics staff, patients and families looking forward to the arrival of large boxes filled with children’s clothing and other items shipped four to five times annually.

     True to form for her family, Lori did this with little fanfare and asked to remain anonymous, with only a handful of people knowing her true identity.

     With a little friendly nudging from TAMC Philanthropy Lead Virginia Joles, a strong desire to encourage others to “pay it forward,” and as a tribute to her brother JR, Lori was introduced to the provider team and staff at Aroostook Pediatrics July 24.  It happened as part of a touching ceremony that was followed by a luncheon attended by family at the North Street Healthcare facility in Presque Isle.

     “Why does she do what she does? Because giving back to the people in the community where she was raised is important to her, a value that she learned at an early age from her family,” Dr. Peter Morningstar, lead provider at Aroostook Pediatrics, told those gathered.  “Her father and mother gave quietly in the community, as did her brother, Fred McGillan, better known as ‘JR.’  The entire family enjoys making a difference without spotlighting themselves.  It was at our urging that you meet her today.”

     For Lori, coming forward as the individual behind the regular gifts was initially against her DNA.

     “We were County kids.  We picked potatoes, gave an honest day’s work, and were taught by our parents that when you do a job, you did it right the first time and did not toot your own horn.  I didn’t want recognition,” she said.

     Her perspective began to change when she was home during the holiday season last December.  A story about an anonymous, out-of-state donor who regularly sends boxes of clothing designated for children at Aroostook Pediatrics aired on WAGM-TV.

     “It was the reaction of the newscasters that struck me.  They were clearly taken back and seemed touched that someone who lived away would reach out in such a way.  That TV news story helped convince me it was time to come forward,” she said.

     She selected the one-year anniversary of her brother JR’s passing from cancer to bring the family together with the pediatrics team.

     “JR was very confident in the ability of the healthcare professionals right here in Aroostook County.  He would tell anyone and everyone that he was so pleased that he didn’t need to travel away to get the top quality care he knew he could get right here at home,” said Lori  after being announced as the donor.

     “After JR’s surgery in 2008, I decided I would send 28 handmade hooded towels to thank all those who provided excellent care for him.  Why 28?  JR’s birthday was the 28th of October.”

     Realizing that sending all sewn items in each box was a bit ambitious, and that County families with young children could certainly use other items, Lori put another of her talents to use:  bargain shopping.  On average each year she sends boxes stuffed full of merchandise valued at $3,000 retail, yet pays only $1,000 for the children’s clothing, ranging from infant to toddler.  Over the past seven years, her gift of $7,000 equates to approximately $21,000.

     “Most often there are seasonal items — whatever holiday is nearby,” said Jennifer Robichaud, RN, clinical supervisor at Aroostook Pediatrics. “Bibs, hats and mittens in the winter, handmade pillow cases that usually are fun characters the kids recognize or holiday-related, homemade bath towels with hoods, clothing for children from birth to 5 or 6 years of age, socks, undergarments, bath mitts, and sometimes even school supplies such as markers, crayon, and pencils.”

     There are also other items with a familiar theme: trucks and other construction toys, especially in red, to match the equipment of the family construction and earthmoving business, McGillan, Inc.

     The gifts continue to be greatly appreciated by providers and staff.  Physician Assistant Lori Eckerstorfer, who lives in Fort Fairfield and is quite familiar with the generosity of the McGillan family, spoke about what it means for providers and patients to receive the items.

     “It often helps us during those visits that are challenging for the children.  Oftentimes giving them one of the items helps turn the visit around and brings a smile to their face,” said Eckerstorfer.  “Just before Christmas last year, we had a mother visit with her newborn.  She had her toddler child with her and I could tell he was not sure what to think of the new arrival.  I gave the toddler one of the newborn items so he would have his own gift to give his new baby brother.  He was so excited!”

     Following Lori’s  humorous and touching tribute to her family and brother that brought both laughter and tears, she shared how the boxes come together and are sent home to The County. TAMC officials then unveiled a plaque featuring Fred “JR” McGillan’s photo and a sentiment that will permanently hang in the Aroostook Pediatrics waiting room.

     The final sentences of the plaque read:  “In loving memory of my brother, the boxes of clothing will continue to arrive at TAMC. JR loved Aroostook County and especially Fort Fairfield.  He was a true leader in the community and always thought of others before himself.  I’m happy to carry on for JR by helping Aroostook County children.”

     Lori not only intends to continue to send the boxes of clothing, she announced that she will expand her giving to include the newest of the newborn patients at TAMC.  Included in the next box she ships, and with each one thereafter, will be onesies for babies born on the Women and Children’s Unit at TAMC’s A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital in Presque Isle.