MILFORD — The unmistakable scent of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wafted through the hallways this week at the Delaware Hospice Center in Milford.
Her handle is “Cookie Lady.”
Dot Swain has arrived every Wednesday for the past two years after lunch with a bowl full of batter, and she bakes five dozen cookies in the family kitchen.
When the first tray is done, Ms. Swain, of Milford, puts another tray in the oven and takes the cookies to the patients.
As a volunteer baker, once a week she brings homemade cookies to patients and their families.
“It’s a small thing. I wish I could do more,” she said.
Ms. Swain took her mantra from a Snoopy doll wearing a baker’s hat. She keeps it in her kitchen. “Happiness is a warm cookie,” it says.
“Does it fix anything? No. Does it change anything? No,” she said.
“For five minutes people smile, that’s really what it’s all about.”
She only bakes one tray at a time, she said, so that everyone can eat their cookies warm and gooey from the oven.
When she runs out of cookies, she hurries back to the kitchen to collect the next tray — back and forth, until all the cookies are finished baking.
At the beginning of her shift, she said, the nurses give her a list of which patients to visit. There were six on
Ms. Swain will softly knock on each door and peek into the rooms with balloons and flowers. “Cookie lady,” she’ll call.
Patients sit up in bed and eagerly hold out their hands for the hot chocolate chip cookies. They always get at least two cookies no matter what.
“I always tell people my cookies go out in pairs, because the world is a lot better in pairs,” Ms. Swain said.
For Ms. Swain, she said she gets back 150 percent more than she gives.
“… it’s about being one of Jesus’ pairs of hands,” Ms. Swain said.
“That is how I feel about it.”
Ms. Swain is a longtime baker and a Delaware State Fair champion for yeast bread. “It’s just in me,” she says.
Whenever her kids had friends over, she made cookies, she said. When her son was diagnosed with diabetes, she set about right away to learn how to make him sweets for his diet.
When Ms. Swain was growing up, her mom was a baker too.
Her family didn’t have much money, but she didn’t know that. Her mother filled the house with pies, breads, biscuits, cookies, fudge.
“My mom would make things. If it was your birthday, she might make purple cake with yellow icing. Just special things,” Ms. Swain said.
“You just associated it with, ‘Yeah, I’ve had a bad day, this is really awful, but look what’s in the kitchen.’”
At the hospice center, she stands by five recipes: chocolate chip, oatmeal butterscotch, peanut butter, sugar and chocolate cheer.
“I’m blessed with staff that lets me try things,” she said.
She started volunteering when her friend, who used to bake at the center on Mondays, recommended it to her.
Ms. Swain was no stranger to hospice. She was drawn to it, because Delaware Hospice holds a special place in her heart.
When her niece Diane was 2, she was diagnosed with leukemia and spent the next few years in and out of Christiana Hospital.
By the time she was 7, she was placed under hospice care.
“They did dishes, they took the other daughter to Girl Scouts,” she said.
“… but what really spoke to me …(my niece) really wanted a dog.”
Even though it was the last thing on the girl’s worried family’s minds, a hospice worker brought her a puppy, a black Labrador retriever.
The gentle dog sat by her side until she passed.
And again, when Ms. Swain’s father died, “hospice was there for him, hospice was there for us.”
“I feel blessed to be a small part of some of the things hospice does,” Ms. Swain said.
“I’m just blessed to be able to volunteer,” she said.
Delaware Hospice has more than 600 volunteers — their times are spent doing a range of tasks, from providing respite care for a family, leading a summer camp group, to entering information in our database.
As a nonprofit, Delaware Hospice is always looking for new skills and ideas from its volunteers. For more information, call 800-838-9800 or visit www.delawarehospice.org.