MANATEE -- Mary Jo Murray took the wrong elevator one day during rounds at Manatee Memorial Hospital and got off to the sight of a woman staring blankly into space.
"I said: 'I can sense something is wrong. Can I be of assistance?'" Murray asked the woman.
"I just learned my husband has terminal cancer," the woman told Murray.
The two women sat down, talked and later hugged.
Murray is not a Manatee Memorial medical doctor, psychologist or administrator. She is a volunteer in the marketing department.
Murray and 400 fellow hospital volunteers play a special role in the lives of thousands of Manatee County residents, according to Chief Executive Officer Kevin DiLallo of Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Volunteers, who wear khaki pants, white shirts and teal smocks, work in the hospital thrift store and gift shop, which raises money for grants to social service agencies, scholarships and other donations, DiLallo said.
Volunteers logged roughly 75,000 hours and raised more than $200,000 for grants dispensed Thursday to 27 social service agencies during the Manatee Memorial Foundation Auxiliary Celebration Luncheon at Renaissance on 9th attended by an estimated 200.
"We saw 6,000 patients in 2014, and many of them have other needs like housing, food and services, and I am proud to say that our volunteers help provide for them," DiLallo said.
Murray, whose husband, Tom Murray, drives a shuttle for the auxiliary, became a volunteer in 2004.
"I had the time and I wanted to do something worthwhile," Murray said. "I think what I am most proud of is the positive attitude of all of our volunteers."
Murray contributed 12,000 volunteer hours in 2014 to rank fourth in hours.
Connie Lesser served 20,000 hours to lead all volunteers followed by Audrey Dodge with 14,000 and Mary Ellen Shoop's 13,000. Nancy Stolle and Beverly Dietsch each had 10,000 volunteer hours.
"This will help adults with disabilities earn a paycheck," Maria Doss of Community Haven said with a grin holding a check for $2,000, which will be used for the Haven Industries expansion program.
Michael and Patti O'Driscoll of St. Joseph's Catholic Church Food Pantry received $5,000 to feed the hungry. St. Joseph's Pantry fed 64,000 last year, the O'Driscolls said.
The 2014-2015 grant recipients: Boys and Girls Clubs, Care Net, Manasota Pregnancy Center, Center for Building Hope, Community Haven, Easter Seals of Southwest Florida, Exchange Club Family Partnership Center, Feeding Empty Little Tummies, Foundation for Dreams Inc., Guardian Angels of Southwest Florida, Habitat for Humanity, Hope Family Services, Just for Girls Inc. and Kids Against Hunger.
Also: Manasota Solve, Meals on Wheels Plus, Our Daily Bread, PACE Center for Girls, Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy Inc., Southeastern Guide Dogs, St. Joseph's Food Pantry, Sunshine From Darkness, Take Stock in Children, Turning Points, United Way of Manatee County, We Care Manatee, Women's Resource Center, Young Life Manatee County.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.