The sweet side of giving back: Ponzio’s cookie benefits New Jersey hospice care

Longtime owner Demetrios “Jimmy” Fifis was a fixture at his beloved Ponzio’s Restaurant in Cherry Hill.

The Greek immigrant “put his heart and soul into the restaurant,” said his son, Nick Fifis.

After a courageous battle with cancer, Jimmy passed away in 2007. To honor the care he and his family received through Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice in the last month of his life and to raise awareness about the benefits of hospice care, the Fifis family is selling a special cookie this March. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to Samaritan.

“My father never wanted to suffer,” said Fifis, but after being diagnosed with lung cancer for a second time, he went through chemotherapy and radiation again anyway. It became clear that he was doing it for his wife and children and not himself.

In July 2007, Jimmy’s family told him to “do what you want.”

He wanted to stop treatment.

The first week in August, the Fifis family contacted Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice for help managing Jimmy’s care.

He wanted to pass away at home, which meant someone from Samaritan would come once a day to help with his care. The family knew Jimmy would be well cared for, but they admit they were surprised by the level of support given to family members as well.

“You have no idea what you are about to live,” explained Fifis. Social workers explained what the family could expect as Jimmy’s health declined and comforted them throughout the entire process.

A few weeks later, Jimmy deteriorated further and he was placed in Samaritan’s inpatient program. Fifis said, “it was like walking into heaven… like an angel came down to my mother.”

The doctors and nurses made sure Jimmy was comfortable, relieving the family of his daily care. Because they were no longer the primary caregivers, the final moments spent with Jimmy were more relaxed for everyone. “We had someone to lean on,” explained Fifis.

Jimmy passed away a week later, on August 22, surrounded by his family.

“We made a promise to always give back,” Fifis said. A cookie seemed like a natural choice for a fundraiser because they sell it at Ponzio’s “without hounding the customer.”

The smaller nature of a cookie was also ideal. “People won’t buy cakes every day, but they will buy cookies,” explained Fifis.

Designed by Ponzio’s head chef, part owner and Jimmy’s son John Fifis, the large cookie sells for $5 and is shaped to look like Samaritan’s logo. “They are hand-cut, quarter-pound butter cookies dipped in white chocolate and finished with blue glitter sugar in the color of Samaritan’s logo,” described John Fifis.

Fifis hopes that their cookie will raise not just money, but awareness as well. “If more people are aware (of what hospice care provides) they would do it and use it. It’s about quality of life.”

Last year, Ponzio’s sold 1,000 cookies, netting a $5,000 donation for Samaritan. In just the first week of March this year, Ponzio’s sold nearly 250 cookies, making it likely the diner will at the very least reach last year’s amount.

The funds are critically needed, explained Samaritan’s Director of Development, Robin Todd. Samaritan provides “care for everyone regardless of insurance status or ability to pay for care,” said Todd. “That’s why we fundraise.”

The Fifis family members are “such good people,” she continued. Samaritan is “very humbled” by their financial support but also grateful for their awareness effort.

“We are so proud of our affiliation with Ponzio’s,” said CEO and President Mary Ann Boccolini. “Wonderful care went into creating the cookie… the Fifis family are wonderful friends to us.”

At least once or twice a day, someone at Ponzio’s mentions his father, said Fifis. “Not everyone wants to talk about death and loved ones who are gone, but I’m the opposite. Talking about him keeps his memory alive.”

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