The Gift Stop is much more than a place where hospital patients, visitors and staff can buy flowers, balloons and cards. Through the efforts of many passionate volunteers, it has evolved from a tiny shop not much larger than a closet, into a flourishing space with two locations. Staff and volunteers strive to put smiles on the faces of those who need it most. All Gift Stop profits go back to UF Health, and are allocated and donated to areas where funds are most needed.
“In what we do, and by the customer service we provide, we have a way of touching people who might need a bright spot in their day,” said Christine Riggs, a volunteer and The Gift Stop board of directors president.
The first Gift Stop was founded at UF Health Shands Hospital in 1980 by a group of women who were dedicated volunteers, according to Beverly Hammer, one of the original founders. They represented the UF Medical Guild, the UF Health Shands Auxiliary and the UF Dental Guild. With the help of their husbands, they worked tirelessly to improve the store and maintain high quality standards.
Barbara Dockery, an early volunteer, worked her way up.
“I began as a humble ‘duster’ in the shop, eventually moving into doing display, even going to the Atlanta Merchandise Market twice a year to select items for the shop,” Dockery said.
The Gift Stop has since expanded, adding a location at the UF Health Cancer Hospital in 2009. Another location is planned for the new UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital and UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital. The Gift Stop’s mission remains the same: To provide caring service to patients, visitors, faculty, staff, students and volunteers with all profits benefiting UF Health.
There are currently about 25 volunteers who serve in The Gift Stop. Most are members of the UF Medical Guild or UF Health Shands Auxiliary, but Gift Stop volunteers do not have to be members of these groups. There are also 12 paid employees, including two managers, who are employees of Lori’s Gifts — a business that manages around 300 gift shops nationwide. The Gift Stop board of directors oversees operations and is composed of UF Health leaders, presidents of the UF Health Shands Auxiliary and UF Medical Guild, and Gift Stop volunteers selected for their leadership abilities and dedication to service.
All Gift Stop profits go back to UF Health. In its 35-year history, The Gift Stop has distributed more than $2.1 million to benefit our programs. Each year, 25 percent goes directly back to the UF Health Foundation. The remaining 75 percent is split between the UF Medical Guild and UF Health Shands Auxiliary. The money each of these groups is allotted depends on the number of hours that their members volunteer in the shop. The Auxiliary funds scholarships for UF and Santa Fe College students in certain health professions and provides grants to UF Health departments. The UF Medical Guild also funds scholarships and uses funds to purchase items that benefit patients and employees. Guild purchases include iPads for UF Health ShandsCair team members working on helicopters to replace notebooks that were hard to manage in emergency situations, and blanket warmers for patients.
Riggs said, “We tell our customers that they are purchasing for a purpose.”
The Gift Stop offers a constantly changing inventory of gift items, flowers, balloons, Gator merchandise, snacks, jewelry and everyday necessities for patients, families, visitors and employees. About 55 percent of sales come from patients and visitors, and the other 45 percent comes from employees and staff.