CEDAR RAPIDS — Little did Claire Sharp know when she filled in for a friend who sorted mail at Mercy Medical Center that she would continue to volunteer her time there for the next 45 years.
She is, and Sharp has no plans to stop as she approaches 10,000 hours of volunteered time.
Sharp describes herself as a “people person” and says that as a volunteer at Mercy, as a driver for the Riders Club and St. Jude’s Catholic Church, “you meet all kinds of people and hear all kinds of stories.”
“It just makes you smile,” said Sharp, who recently was recognized with a certificate and a hug from Gov. Kim Reynolds at the Governor’s Volunteer Awards recognition in Marion.
A stay-at-home mom with four children at the time, Sharp wasn’t looking for something to keep busy when a friend who volunteered at Mercy left and another friend asked if she would be interested in helping sort mail.
“Forty-five years later, they’re gone, but I’m still here,” Sharp, 77, said recently as she assembled information packets while staffing an information desk in the Cedar Rapids hospital. “I love it here.”
When she started, the volunteers used carts to deliver mail around the hospital.
“Now you can carry the (patient) mail in your arms,” she said, attributing the decline to social media and shorter hospital stays.
Sharp is a Linn County native who with her husband, Larry, raised two sons and three daughters, and beams when she talks about the prospects of her grandson, Mitch Keller, being called up from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system to the majors before the end of the season.
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Sharp has logged 9,446 hours — an average of more than 200 hours a year — at Mercy, according to the hospital. And that’s just one of her volunteer missions.
“My true passion,” she said, is the funeral dinner ministry at St. Jude’s, where she oversees those gatherings for families and friends of deceased parishioners for three months of each year. She also distributes communion to homebound members of St. Jude’s and helps with the parish’s annual Sweet Corn Festival.
Another outlet is the Grateful Grannies that was started to help underprivileged students at Jefferson High School.
“Sometimes it seem like teenagers fall through the cracks” between programs such as Toys for Tots and assistance for adults, Sharp explained. So the Grannies would buy clothes and other supplies for students, paying with their own money. Now the program also serves children at five west-side schools, Sharp said.
Sharp said she doesn’t actively recruit volunteers, “but I talk about how great it feels.”
“I know I’m helping and I’m doing a service,” Sharp said. “That’s what I’m all about.”
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