A Sister’s Legacy: Susan’s Gifts Online

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Launching of Susan’s Gifts Online with T-shirts: (left to right) Kimberly (Tracy’s sister), Tracy, Linda (Rona’s friend), Rona, Flora (my friend and Rona’s sister), and Gale (third Buchbinder sister).

While visiting my college friend Flora, I spotted an orange canvas bag hanging on the banister that said CHEMO SABE. When I asked her about it, she told me her sister Rona and Rona’s daughter-in-law Tracy owned a small company called Susan’s Gifts, named after Flora and Rona’s sister Susan, who succumbed to cancer several years ago.

I emailed a list of questions to Rona, who forwarded them to Tracy, her daughter-in-law, and the reply is so clear, I decided to post both the questions and their answers as I received them, with minor editing. THis business is a labor of love and deserves a closer look.

1.When and why did you start Susan’s Gifts?
2.When did your daughter-in-law get on board?

For a number of years, I had been giving gifts to people who were ill. These were well received and I was encouraged by a number of people to start a business. I was about to retire after working at National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (NIHCC) for 37 years, and I needed something to keep me busy.

I realized that I did not want to be in the business alone…it’s difficult for one person to brainstorm ideas. I invited my daughter-in-law Tracy out to dinner one evening at our favorite sushi restaurant. At that time, I had a lot on my mind, so I had written down all that I wanted to say to Tracy, so I wouldn’t forget any of the important topics. When she saw the paper, her first comment was: “What? No PowerPoint presentation?” After we finished laughing over that line, we had not only a delicious dinner ,but also the first of many discussions as we started to organize our business.

In April 2004, we signed the Articles of Organization for Susan’s Gifts, LLC and legally formed our business. Then the real work began. We spent some time getting our products organized. Finding the right name for each product was a challenge and we think we scored well in that area. CHEMO SABEâ„¢, GLOâ„¢ and the FIVE O’CLOCK BOXâ„¢ are the names of our products.

We held four focus groups and invited people to give us feedback on
the look of the packages as well as the content. We made some modifications based on the comments. In April 2006, we formally launched our business during the Montgomery County (Maryland) Women’s Fair.

Tracy is a talented artist. She designed all of our logos and our brochure. By the end of 2006, our website, designed by Tracy and Tim (my son and Tracy’s husband), was up and running.

3. What is your “mission?”

We are the leading provider of creative surprise packages that comfort, encourage, and heal. Our mission is to give respite to patients undergoing chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and those who are hospitalized…to give people the opportunity to think about something other than their illness or treatment each day as they open one gift. Mind you…not everyone opens the packages this way. Many people open all the gifts as soon as the package arrives!

chemo_crop.jpg (First gift bag I spotted at my friend Flora’s.)

4. Can you give me an idea of the type of items in each bag?

Each product contains between 17-20 gifts. Each present was selected for one of three specific purposes listed below, with examples of items included and why we selected these items:

a. to enhance the recipient’s well-being

Pillow – When the fatigue associated with medical treatment
hits, the recipient can rest her/his head on the pillow which is a perfect size for carrying from place to place.

Lotion – This helps soothe the skin, heal cracked skin and generally
makes people feel good.

b. to serve a practical purpose

Journal – This provides recipients with a place to keep track of appointments, to write their thoughts and feelings related to their treatment, and to record questions they want their treatment team to address.

Note cards – I take a lot of photographs. Tracy and I selected our favorites, and we printed copies of the photos and put them on note cards. Recipients are prepared if they want to write a letter, or they can simply look at the photographs and daydream!

c. to offer amusement and fun.

Deck of cards/card game instructions
Most medical treatment involves waiting, and we thought these cards would provide a delightful diversion to combat the boredom.

Scramble Squares® puzzle
This is a colorful puzzle to solve, guaranteed to keep the recipient busy. It consists of nine pieces that only fit together one way. Sounds easy, but it is not!

5. Do you have any ideas for new bags?

We have decided to concentrate on these three products for the time being. We have had short discussions about developing similar products for children. Because of some of the jokes in our joke books (each product has a different set of jokes), our current products are suited for those who are at least 16 years of age.

6. Do you sell to hospitals or other businesses?

We have our products in the gift shop at the NIH Clinical Center, the government’s research hospital. Most of our sales are from word of mouth or from people who find our web site.

7. Anything else you would like to add to make the profile more personal or unique?

On our brochure, there are comments from recipients; we also have feedback forms that were returned with similar statements. We are pleased to know that recipients “get” the idea behind our products and that they enjoyed the benefits of our gifts. Naturally, we think our products are great…and it’s encouraging to hear that echoed in comments from people who have received our products.

These are great gifts to cheer up a friend or family member going through an illness. Thank you, Rona and Tracy, for creating your products. If you wish to email Rona and Tracy, the email address is: info@susansgiftsonline.com and the website is www.susansgiftsonline.com. You will find more about the gifts and ordering information.

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(Another bag designed by Tracy, used for patients going through radiation treatments.)

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