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News & Events

Columbia Couple Give Veterinary Hospital Staff
A Reason to Give Thanks

Barbara Levy wanted to change her life. She had just gone through two emotionally draining years that culminated in spending a joyless Thanksgiving dining at a St. Louis eatery. On the drive home she turned to her husband, Ken, and made a vow: “I’m not doing this again.”

He agreed.

What she would do instead she didn’t know. Months passed as Barbara Levy pondered how she could inject some thanks back into Thanksgiving. Then one morning the following April, she had an epiphany and rushed to share her plan with Ken. She says she had come to realize, “the best way to change your life is to change what you do.”

What the pair decided to do was celebrate the next Thanksgiving by preparing a traditional dinner for everyone whose work at the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital prevented them from enjoying the holiday at home with their own families. Eleven years later, the Levys still cook a Thanksgiving feast and personally deliver it to the hospital for the clinicians, students, technicians and support staff who spend Thanksgiving the same way they spend the other 364 days of the year – helping animals.

Barbara Levy laughs when she recounts the hospital staff’s puzzlement the first year she showed up unannounced with enough food to feed 30 people. But by the third year of the endeavor, the Levys found themselves eagerly greeted at the hospital door by a hungry medical team armed with a gurney to haul the food back to the lounge.

“I have benefitted from the Levys’ kind gesture on several Thanksgivings,” noted Dr. John Dodam, vice dean of academic affairs at the College of Veterinary Medicine and an anesthesiologist. “It gives everyone who can’t be with family on the holiday a nice dinner, a real boost. And students always appreciate a good meal.”

The Levys know from first-hand experience that illness and injury don’t take a holiday so caregivers can’t either. One Thanksgiving morning Barbara had to rush one of her own Cavalier King Charles spaniels to the veterinary hospital. As she dropped Mikey off with the clinician, she assured the team she would be back within a few hours with their dinner. She then returned home, cleaned up and went back to cooking.

Over the years, Barbara Levy has fine-tuned the menu to meet the needs of a busy hospital staff that can be pulled away from their meal at a moment’s notice to attend to emergencies. She avoids any ingredients that could spoil if the food sits out for any length of time. She serves up fresh vegetables because, she explains, they hold up longer than salads. Ham and turkey are pre-sliced allowing second shift workers to grab a late-night sandwich. Food is packaged in foil pans that can easily be tucked back into the refrigerator – which the Levys also provided to the hospital when they realized the one refrigerator in the lounge was often too full to also accommodate the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers.

And while Barbara Levy modestly says that the dinner she and Ken prepare isn’t fancy, in addition to the staples like turkey and pie, this year’s menu includes sweet potato pudding and stuffing made from brown and wild rice with apricots and pecans.

After 11 years, the Levys have no plans to end what has become a tradition. “I’ll do it until I can’t move any more, or until my cooking gets so bad that they say, ‘thanks, but no thanks’,” Barbara says.

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Last Update: February 24, 2012