Through the pandemic and great flood Gilda’s Club is steadfast in their community
By Melissa Chipman
Photos provided by Gilda’s Club
Like many nonprofits, Gilda’s Club on Grinstead Drive had to find a way forward to serve their community through the COVID pandemic. The major challenge is that their community includes many people early in their cancer journeys that are potentially immunosuppressed. While navigating the pandemic, mother nature had plans of her own. A series of catastrophic sewerage floods swamped the first floor of their building.
In 1995, the concept of Gilda’s Club began in honor of the original Saturday Night Live cast member, Gilda Radner, who died in 1989 of ovarian cancer. This community organization focuses on supporting people living with cancer and their loved ones. The Kentuckiana location opened its doors on Baxter Avenue in 2008. The Louisville chapter has an additional facility in the West End that provides all services for free.
President and CEO of the Louisville chapter, Karen Morrison, walked VOICE Louisville through the building and timeline of the floods.
The first flood came and receded on Jan. 1, leaving the floors and carpets saturated. Later that month, on Jan. 27, another wave of flooding returned with the same impact. But the flood that hit on Feb. 28 was “a catastrophe,” according to Morrison.
Anticipating the heavy rains that were forecasted, Morrison and her crew bought sandbags, but “it was like having your arm cut off and someone handing you a Band-Aid.” The last flood left the first floor deep in muck. “Luckily,” they were already closed at the time. Gilda’s Club had gone entirely virtual on Mar. 8, 2020, because of COVID. “We erred on the side of caution because of the population,” said Morrison. “We all said, ‘it’s just for a month or two, right?”
The flooded sewerage hit Noogieland the hardest. Noogieland is the playroom of dreams, anchored by a treehouse and supported by a costume closet, a craft area, a puppet theater and more. The top floor of the building reopened on Sept. 1, and the downstairs will reopen in mid-October. It’s still a work zone since the flood destroyed many youth support rooms and the exercise room.
New hybrid groups and classes allow people to attend even if they are far away, even as far as New England and Florida or if they are sick or have no means of transportation. Anthem funded much of the new virtual programming for Gilda’s Club, including video conferencing tech in nearly every building room. Loneliness, fear and isolation are all a part of living with cancer which COVID amplifies. To help combat this, volunteers and staff members have made more than 6,000 home deliveries of care packages all over the region. Gilda’s Club has provided tech hot spots, tablets and tech support staff to attendees who didn’t have the means to provide their own.
Morrison and her partner made a fifty-mile drive to drop off a care package for a woman with cancer. The journey led to a road with two mobile homes on it. When they reached their destination, Morrison repeatedly knocked, but no one appeared to be home.
Next door, a woman in the home opened her door, “Are you from Gilda’s Club?” she asked. She shared that she was the woman’s mother of the empty mobile home and her daughter was currently at treatment. She offered for them to leave the care package with her. When Morrison handed her the bag, she peeked inside and began to sob softly.
At first, Morrison didn’t understand why a bag of cookie mix, cocoa and a small art kit made the woman emotional. Morrison quickly realized that the items in the care package were not the reason for her tears, but they reminded her that she and her daughter were not alone while living with cancer.
A famous saying at Gilda’s Club is “no one faces cancer alone.” But Morrison noted that pre-COVID and flood meant “no one faces cancer alone…within a 20-mile radius.” COVID and the floods have opened the virtual doors to the Club’s 189 events a month, services and resources to people in far-flung places and all around the country right here from a building on Grinstead Drive.
6 p.m. Nov. 12
2440 Grinstead Dr.