Hospitals can be intimidating places — even for the healthiest of adults. From their labyrinthine hallways, overworked staff, and cold and sterile decor, the reality is that being in a hospital is no fun.

Now imagine you’re a sick child thrown into that world and the coronavirus pandemic prevents anyone you love and know from being there with you. That’s the case in Florida where one hospital and their ward of sick children couldn’t help but feel like outcasts from society.

Enter Tami Koppinger and Jackie Hope, western North Dakota residents who believe no child should feel alone in their most challenging times.

Koppinger and Hope became aware of the situation in Florida, where Koppinger’s son works as a nurse, and wanted to take action to share a message of positivity and hope with care packages.

“In order to not feel so helpless, I have to help,” Koppinger said. “The only way to stay positive and fight is to help.”

Koppinger is a mother of five children and was already planning on helping the hospital where her son works, but after talking to a city director in southwestern Florida, she learned what no parent wants to hear.

“I talked to the director of the county and asked, ‘what can we do to help?’”, Koppinger said. “And right away he said, ‘the children, they are not allowed visitors now,’ and as a parent, I just cannot imagine to be sick and not be able to get any visitors, and they don’t know what’s going on. I’m sure they’re feeling some sort of panic, kids feel that, they are very sensitive.”

Since then, Koppinger and Hope have sent care packages to Florida with essential items such as masks, gloves, money and whatever else is needed for the children. The passionate duo feel that the most important gift they send is that which children crave most — the love of a caring mother.

Koppinger and others have sent cards with each package specifically for the children, featuring colorful images such as flowers, butterflies, pets, and anything that will make them smile. With messages saying, “Sending you a big hug from North Dakota” and “You are loved!”

“It helps people to not feel so helpless,” Koppinger said. “We shouldn’t be sitting around afraid while watching the news. … I think people are really having a hard time with this.”

Koppinger and Hope might be the catalyst of this pen pal program, but they will both readily admit they are not the only people doing it.

“I’ve talked to nursing homes in Dickinson, and they’re working on this. Jackie Hope is making masks, she’s already made about 42 masks,” Koppinger said. “I have called St. Benedict’s Health Center and St. Luke's Home (senior care facilities in Dickinson) and both are seeing what is possible.”

Koppinger added, “I don’t want people to think ‘why aren’t they supporting Dickinson.’ We will. It’s just not time yet.”

Koppinger and Hope believe that their first finished package shipped to Florida will be mailed early next week, and are beginning to design and create gowns as hospitals are beginning to get low because of current situations.

Both Koppinger and Hope invite the rest of Dickinson to join in on their mission to help children quarantined from friends and family. If you are interested in helping, contact Tami Koppinger at 701-690-8044.