Judith Adele Agentis Charitable Foundation

Judith Adele Agentis Charitable Foundation

by Ann Wlazelek

Contrary to American economist Milton Friedman’s warning, there is a free lunch: It happens every Thursday at St. Luke’s Hospice in Lower Saucon Township.

There, about 30 family members and staffers gather round a table for pizza, homemade soup or even a gourmet meal from some of the Lehigh Valley’s finest restaurants, including the Apollo Grill and Emeril’s Chop House, both in Bethlehem, and Shula’s Steak House in Center Valley.

Bethlehem real estate agent Bob Agentis delivers the food in memory of his wife and long-time business partner, Judith Adele Agentis, who died at St. Luke’s Hospice on January 10, 2013, only about a month after receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Lunch arrives every Thursday because that was the day of the week that Judith died.

“I know what they are going through,” Agentis said of family members who don’t want to leave the side of terminally ill loved ones. “I didn’t eat for six days,” he said. “I didn’t have any desire.”

Agentis also wanted to give back to the nurses, aides and others who helped him and his wife in so many ways. “Those people are angels,” he said. “They are just amazing.”

Staffers say the appreciation goes both ways. So grateful for his efforts, they nominated him this year for a statewide “Heart of Hospice” award. Agentis won and received the honor for volunteer work at a banquet in Hershey in April.

“We just appreciate everything he does for us,” said Judy Putnam, patient care manager at St. Luke’s Hospice, a home-like center that works with families to keep the terminally ill comfortable and out of pain. When the center surprised Agentis with a cake and balloons to reveal the award, every staff member and more than a dozen relatives of hospice patients attended, she said. Agentis, who ran the family real estate business by the same name for 40 years with Judith by his side, met his bride when they were preschoolers and next-door neighbors. The couple fell in love in high school and was married for 47 years.

His tribute to her and the hospice began the week after her death, when he returned with a box of doughnuts or sandwiches. Some weeks, he would make the meal himself using one of two kitchens at the facility.

Over time, Agentis returned to some of the restaurants he and Judith had frequented in the past. “I asked where his bride was,” recalled Dyanne Holt, an owner of the Apollo. “He broke down and said that Judy had died from pancreatic cancer. We were stunned.”

When Agentis told Holt what he had been doing at the hospice, the restaurateur jumped at a chance to join in.

“It was a no-brainer,” she said. “Both of my parents died from cancer and hospice care is essential to the families. We know how challenging it is to have a terminally ill loved one. You are being pulled at all ends and it is difficult to take care of yourself.”

“If I could save one life, it is all worth it.”

So, when it is Apollo’s turn to cater the event, Holt said she tries to provide a wide variety of fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables. Favorites include the Apollo Waldorf with Granny Smith apples, greens, golden raisins, walnuts, mandarin oranges and gorgonzola cheese; and a tri-color salad with roasted beets, radicchio, arugula and goat cheese.

The Apollo typically sends several pastas, which are easy to store and can be reheated, Holt said, as well as desserts such as vanilla bean shortbread cheesecake with blueberry compote or Mexican chocolate cake.

Is it any wonder that when Agentis arrives, hospice staffers stop what they are doing to give him a hug? And when the crew is busy, Putnam said, Agentis understands and returns another time. He even drove to the center in a snowstorm this past winter to deliver homemade clam chowder, salad and dessert, the hospice manager recalled.

When families find out why Agentis provides lunch each Thursday, Putnam said, “magic happens: They open up while sharing a meal together.” One family was so touched by Agentis’ efforts, she said, that they also brought a home-cooked Spanish meal for hospice members to share.

With some 35 restaurants now offering to take turns making the hospice lunches, Agentis said he hopes to sustain and possibly replicate the program in other communities. In May of 2013, his accountant and a lawyer friend helped him create the non-profit Judith Adele Agentis Charitable Foundation.

The foundation provides restaurants with a tax write-off and also collects donations that might help cancer patients pay for tests and treatments they cannot afford.

A car wash in Saucon Valley and fundraiser at Melt restaurant at the Promenade Shops in Center Valley last year each netted $3,000 for the endowment, Agentis said. The Apollo Grill contributed money from “Therapeutic Thursday” events and Gail Gray’s Home Furnishings donated a year-end contribution of $700.

“Every little bit helps,” he said, proud that the endowment has already paid for a CT scan for one young woman who did not have insurance coverage or the ability to pay for the test.

Agentis does not know if a CT scan four years ago could have saved his wife’s life, because pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers and the fourth most common cause of death in the United States. But, until medical science finds a cure or more successful treatment, he hopes his endowment gives others a chance at survival.

“If I could save one life, it is all worth it,” Agentis said. “[Everyone’s] generosity makes it all happen.”

For more information about the Judith Adele Agentis Charitable Foundation and the list of restaurants involved, visit JAACF.org.

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