Knock, knock. ‘Hi, I’m the Cookie Lady’

Dec. 8, 2017
Joan Gibbs, known as "The Cookie Lady," is shown distributing cookies to a patient at the UCHealth Jan Bishop Cancer Center in this photo.
The Cookie Lady, Joan Gibbs makes the Jan Bishop Cancer Center at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center the first stop during her rounds. Photo by UCHealth.

Imagine you’re a patient in the hospital. There’s a knock at your door, and in wheels a cart.

It’s not someone coming for a blood draw or to check your vitals.

It’s not a nurse or doctor with your latest test results.

It’s Joan.

“Hi, I’m the Cookie Lady. Would you like a cookie?”

Now isn’t that a sweet bit of medicine.

Keeping busy

Joan Gibbs’ history of volunteering in health care began in April 1996 when she answered a “help wanted” advertisement in the local paper.

“The hospital was looking for volunteers at the Extended Care Center (which then became the Doak Walker Care Center and exists today as Casey’s Pond),” said Gibbs. “I interacted with the residents. We had fun. I wanted to do something meaningful.”

Gibbs and her husband, Dick, arrived in Steamboat Springs in July 1995 following her husband’s retirement from a public relations firm in New York City. They had a condo in Steamboat Springs and came to the area quite often.

“We were looking for a reprieve after the hustle and bustle of the city,” she said.

Fast forward some 20 years, and Gibbs holds one of the most coveted volunteer positions at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medicine Center – cookie lady.

“What’s better than a cookie, some fresh fruit and a hot cup of coffee?” she asks rhetorically.

Joan Gibbs, known as "the Cookie Lady," is shown passing out cookies.
Gibbs checks with patient care staff to understand any dietary concerns for the day’s patients. Photo by UCHealth.

Surprisingly, Gibbs doesn’t have a favorite flavor of cookie. In fact, she doesn’t even eat them.

“You don’t have to like cookies to do this job,” she said with a wink. “You just need to like people. But I don’t want anyone getting any ideas. They’re not getting my job.”

Every Monday afternoon, Gibbs arrives at Yampa Valley Medical Center – there’s only one Monday she can recall missing recently – and checks her cart, put together each time by a member of YVMC’s food and nutrition services team. On a recent shift, it included a variety of freshly baked chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies, fresh strawberries and grapes, piping hot coffee and a selection of teas.

She makes her rounds in the same order each week, first to the Jan Bishop Cancer Center, then to the patient care unit and finally the Birth Center, with December, February and March being her busiest months. There are designated cookie ladies for the rest of the week, too – Vanda Nohinek on Wednesdays and Patricia Pillow on Fridays.

More than just cookies

Each patient and family interaction starts the same way, with a friendly smile and that simple question: “Hi, I’m the Cookie Lady. Would you like a cookie?”

Having already asked permission from the attending nurse, Gibbs offers the days’ flavors to each patient.

“You want grapes? Huh, nobody wants grapes today. Maybe a big strawberry?”

“Sure, I’ll take a strawberry or two,” says a patient. “You have coffee, too?”

“You bet I do,” says Gibbs with a smile.

“Boy, would that be good. Yes, please. I’ll have a cup.”

In this photo, Joan Gibbs, known as "the Cookie Lady," pours coffee.
Joan Gibbs — the Cookie Lady – pours a cup of hot java to go with her sweet treats. Photo by UCHealth.

With an order filled and a dose of kindness delivered, Gibbs is on her way to the next patient.

“There’s something about them – the patients – they’re the reason I keep coming back each week,” she said. “I’ll see people around town and they sometimes give me a look that says, ‘Where do I know you?’ If I remember them from the hospital, I’ll ask how they’re doing. Most ask if they know me. All I reply is, ‘I’m the Cookie Lady.’ That usually jogs their memory.”

Once the rounds are complete on the day’s patients, Gibbs rolls her cart into the nurses’ station.

“I offer the remaining cookies to the nurses,” she says with a smile. “It’s good to keep on their good side, as you never know when you might need them. Plus, I’m hoping they put in a good word for me and I’ll get a raise.” Gibbs is, after all, a volunteer.

Out of the blue, there’s a “Wait, Joan! Don’t leave!” heard from around the corner. It’s one of the nurses. Gibbs turns with laugh and her usual question and in return, receives a warm smile and a heartfelt “thank you.”

“Sometimes you just need a cookie to brighten your day,” she says. “I have to take care of them,” Gibbs says, “all of them. Everybody here does so much for the patients.”

What she doesn’t take credit for, however, is what she does for everyone else.

About the author

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications specialist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She has spent the last ten years working in marketing and communications in health care, an industry she never considered but one to which she's contributed through her work in media relations, executive messaging and internal communications. She considers it an honor to interact with patients and write about their experiences; it’s what keeps her coming back to work each day.

A native of Nebraska, Lindsey received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a focus on public relations, from the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University – she bleeds purple.

She could see a Broadway musical every week, is a huge animal lover, enjoys a good shopping trip, and likes spending time in the kitchen. Lindsey and her husband have two daughters and enjoy hiking in the summer and skiing all winter long.