Brenda Fisher’s family members were worried when the nurse and grandmother of three said she wanted to volunteer in COVID-19 relief efforts, but they weren’t surprised.
“They said, ‘We know how you are, because you get that altruistic spirit from Nanny – my mother – go ahead and do what you feel is best,’” she said. Brenda often volunteers in her community, including as a nurse to Hurricane Katrina evacuees who were housed in Houston’s Astrodome.
As part of Merck’s medical volunteer program, Brenda, senior specialist, clinical research, oncology, is part of a team of nurses at Houston Food Bank who monitor the health of volunteers and ensure that they are wearing masks and sanitizing their hands.
Brenda says she called nurse friends looking for volunteer opportunities after watching the news on TV and seeing headlines about death tolls on her phone.
In response to the pandemic, Merck has changed its volunteer policy to support employees like Brenda with nursing and other medical backgrounds. Recognizing the need for additional health care professionals, including doctors, nurses and medical laboratory technicians, to assist in regions where COVID-19 is spreading, on March 21 the company deployed a new program to enable our medically trained employees to volunteer their time to aid their communities while maintaining their base pay.
“I just couldn’t sit home every day not doing anything, not contributing to the community, with the knowledge I’ve been blessed to have,” she said.
During a typical day, Brenda monitors the health of volunteers and helps to distribute boxes of food to local people in need, including families with children who are unable to receive meals at school.
Brenda’s voice trembles as she explains that people begin to line up in their cars at 8 a.m. for the 2 p.m. distribution of food and diapers.
“You just have to see the lines of cars – they go for miles – and when they come and you give them a box of food and diapers…,” She pauses for a moment and apologizes for getting emotional. “They’re so appreciative. It just warms your heart.”
Although her volunteer work puts her at higher risk of exposure to coronavirus, Brenda says her late mother, Leathia, inspires her to shed her fear. Leathia was always helping local women in need.
“She had no fear,” says Brenda. “She was always trying to give them hope and bring them food and clothes, even when she was going through cancer and chemotherapy. She most definitely is my inspiration every day. You have to pass on that spirit. If my children see me in my community helping out, I hope I can leave that legacy to them as well.”
Brenda says she’s thankful that Merck offers flexibility to medical professional employees who volunteer during the pandemic.
“It’s been a blessing that I’m able to serve the community, and I’m forever grateful,” she says of the opportunity. “I did something that’s just a little ripple in the lake, but if everyone throws a rock, it’ll make a big impact. I got it from my mom, and she passed away from cancer over 25 years ago. I have her blessing, too.”
Year of the Nurse
Brenda says being a nurse demands so much more than having the technical skills the job requires.
“Reach down and find out, why do you want to become a nurse? You can go to different areas of nursing to work, but the spirit of nursing – no one can teach you that. You have to have that in you, and nurture that and be able to look at the holistic person, not just this patient who has diabetes, for example. Know you’re here to serve your community.”
As a volunteer at Houston Food Bank, Brenda says she helps “treat the whole body, mind and soul.”
“It’s not just giving a box of food,” she says. “When you see your community out there, you give them words of encouragement and give them hope that it’s going to get better.”