Local woman delivers groceries to cancer patients amid pandemic

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 18, 2020

 Gabrielle Ekstrum, of Madison Heights, has been delivering groceries to cancer patients as part of a volunteer program through the New Day Foundation for Families.

Gabrielle Ekstrum, of Madison Heights, has been delivering groceries to cancer patients as part of a volunteer program through the New Day Foundation for Families.

Photo provided by Heather Blasko

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Grocery shopping during a pandemic is a high-risk activity for cancer patients due to their weakened immune systems. To help them and their caregivers, a program through the nonprofit New Day Foundation for Families offers to do the shopping for them.

One of the most active volunteers in the program lives in Madison Heights. Gabrielle Ekstrum, 29, is a technical writer by trade who tries to give back to the community in her spare time. In addition to volunteering with New Day, she also serves as an ambassador handing out maps and teaching kids about kangaroos at the Detroit Zoo’s Outback, and she volunteers with Oakland County Parks, running dinner dances for adults with special needs.

“I learned about the New Day Foundation for Families through my employer when, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we volunteered to deliver meals and groceries for the organization,” Ekstrum said via email. “I have continued my volunteering since then.”

The delivery program started in April, and since then it has already served nearly 130 families, with nearly 170 deliveries by nearly 90 volunteers, which equates to about 11,600 meals served. In her time with the program, Ekstrum has been delivering to a dozen different families. She travels extensively, since she’s one of the only volunteers in the program who delivers in Detroit.

She communicates with the recipient families mainly by text and phone, as well as the occasional distanced communication. She said that she often finds herself reassuring families that no additional action is required, which comes as a huge relief — once they’re signed up, everything is coordinated by the organizers. The family simply makes their list, provides it to New Day, and then New Day handles the rest. Beyond that, the volunteer may text-message the family to clarify items or to reconfirm delivery times.  

The program is available for anybody in active cancer treatment, regardless of whether they have a child in the home. The recipients are often referred by their hospital social worker or their financial navigator. Each drop-off covers about two weeks of groceries. Each family will also receive three deliveries that are paid for by New Day.

Josephine Long, the volunteer coordinator for New Day, underscored the program’s value.

“It’s a double whammy for them — they have cancer, and if they contracted COVID, their risk of dying from it is five times higher than the average person,” Long said via email. “Grocery shopping is extremely difficult on many levels, but proper nutrition is essential for restored health and immune efficiency. To have a selfless volunteer take a family’s personal grocery list, purchase their groceries and porch-drop them is a tremendous gift.”

Ekstrum’s volunteer service with New Day has also included participation in the organization’s Virtual Gala, and she won the “Pawdacious Portraits” auction with her rescued black Lab/hound mix Bowser featuring as a photo subject at the event.

Cancer is a personal subject for her family. Her grandmother survived ovarian cancer. She has also had family friends dealing with cancer.

“With contactless delivery, I have not had much face-to-face interaction to see the realities of living with cancer. When I was in high school, however, I did have the opportunity to aide a family friend after her regular chemo treatments. Seeing how hard it was for her to get into bed and eat a small meal was heartbreaking, but she was always grateful for my assistance,” Ekstrum said.

New Day is based in Rochester Hills and describes its mission as “reducing the effects of financial toxicity and emotional stress caused by cancers,” with a variety of programs aimed at improving treatment outcomes and life after recovery.

Donations to the cause can be made by visiting www.foundation forfamilies.org/donate or by texting NEWDAYFF to 56651.

Ekstrum said it’s a humbling experience seeing how something simple for her makes such a profound difference in the lives of others.

“Every shopping trip I take reminds me of how fortunate my family is,” Ekstrum said, “and that drives me to do as much as I can for these families.”

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