Local Philanthropist Lisa O’Neill Honors Late Brother at National Philanthropy Day Celebration

November 15, 2019

On Wednesday, November 13, the Jefferson Health Foundation – New Jersey hosted its fifth annual National Philanthropy Day celebration. The event represents a time to celebrate the kindness of others and reflect on what it means to give back. Declared a national observance by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, National Philanthropy Day was inspired by the grassroots initiatives of Douglas Freeman.

This year’s ceremony featured remarks from Jeffrey A. Dubnow, Associate Vice President of Development, and Lisa O’Neill, local philanthropist and founding member of the Kevin Todd Memorial Fund.

The story of how the Kevin Todd Memorial Fund came to be started in 1989, Lisa recalls, when she and her family received that dreaded phone call – that her brother, Kevin, was diagnosed with AIDS.

Decades later, Lisa explains, this news wouldn’t have the same inclination as it did then. At the time, research, treatment, and prevention had just begun, meaning that an AIDS diagnosis was equal to a death sentence. The question wasn’t “if,” it was “when.”

Kevin was treated by Dr. David Condoluci for many years, before peacefully passing away at age 40 in 1997.

“I’ll never forget that my brother said to me he was afraid we would forget him,” said Lisa. “I told myself, I would never let that happen.”

A couple years later, around the holidays, it was asked of Lisa to help a local family in need whose father was suffering from AIDS. They gathered gifts and food and delivered them to the grateful family. This act of kindness was meant to be a “one-time thing,” but turned into a non-profit organization, “Spirit of the Holidays,” that over the course of 18 years would help hundreds of families.

“By 2017, our volunteers were growing tired, so we made the incredibly difficult decision that it would be our last year,” said Lisa. “We wrapped more than 1,400 gifts, gathered nearly 100 food boxes, loaded two trucks, and helped 95 South Jersey families affected by AIDS have a joyous holiday.”    

The small non-profit that they were, Lisa explains, they often didn’t have much money left over. What was brought in, was always given back out. However, at the end of their final delivery, they had a shocking amount in the bank.

“I don’t really believe in coincidences,” said Lisa. “But as fate would have it, we had nearly the amount of money that would be needed to start a memorial fund at Jefferson Health New Jersey, where Dr. Condoluci now practices.”

According to Lisa, “Spirit of the Holidays” started as a charitable cause and transformed into a philanthropic cause. “We are no longer just giving back; rather, we are starting a movement to talk about AIDs, talk about how common it is, how it impacts individuals and families, how there is still a stigma that needs to be broken, and talk about everything we can do to help.”  

Dubnow thanked Lisa in saying, “It’s not just about the money. Hospitals provide vital care and services to their community. They are a necessity that needs the help of outside support to provide programs; better access to care; and new, innovative equipment. We are incredibly thankful to philanthropists, as they help us grow and improve lives.”

Philanthropy is defined by many as “kindness to humanity,” Lisa says. “If that’s the case, then we should be philanthropic every single day.”

The Jefferson Health Foundation – New Jersey’s Kevin Todd Memorial Fund is used to assist eligible patients and families who are impacted by HIV/AIDs. For more information and other ways to give back at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE.