One summer day two years ago when she was eight years old, Sarah Heroff was bored. So she decided to seek out her friend, Branch Williams, who was a few months older and a bit taller.
Branch's height would prove handy when Sarah decided to raise money for the Pullman Regional Hospital Foundation. Actually, she credits Branch with helping ignite the entire idea.
“I just wanted to go out and play with Branch. And he said, 'Hey, we've got some good cherry trees around here.' And I went home and got a bag and started picking.”
Sarah, with Branch's help reaching the highest ones, picked so many cherries that she didn't know what to do with the ones she didn't eat.
“When I realized I wasn't going to eat all of them, I decided to sell some.”
Then she talked to her good friend, Lakiah Devich, about what to do with the money. “She has a giving heart, and she said, 'You're not going to eat all these, right? So why don't you give the money to the Humane Society or the hospital?'”
Sarah, whose mother Kim McGee is a registered nurse at Pullman Regional, decided her earnings might be best spent on patients. After all, she was born at Pullman Regional, has made four visits in her young life to the emergency room and was admitted for two days as a burn patient.
“I thought it should go towards the patients, like if they need more medicine, they might use that money.”
So Sarah gave it all to the hospital's foundation – all $3 she earned the first summer, and a total $6 last summer.
“I was very touched when we received an envelope with dollar bills from Sarah with a handwritten note explaining the donation to the hospital,” said Megan Guido, director of strategic initiatives and marketing at the hospital. “This is heart-felt and not only shows hard work and sacrifice on Sarah’s part but a commitment to giving instilled by her parents.” The donation went to the Excellence Fund in support of hospital needs.
Sarah is 10 years old now. She's in the fourth grade at Jefferson Elementary School in Pullman. She writes for the school newspaper, plays the piano and violin and vowed to keep picking cherries this coming summer, perhaps even branching out into apples and plums. Sarah lives with her mom and older sister, Madeline, in Pullman's Parkwest Mobile Home Park, which is ripe with mature community fruit trees planted throughout.
“Branch, he's kind of tall, so I use him and sometimes my sister to pick the cherries that are higher up,” Sarah said.
Picking the cherries is only the beginning. “It takes time,” Sarah said of the philanthropic process. “You have to be sure the cherries don't have any holes in them, because if they have holes that means an insect has started eating them.” Then the green stems must be plucked and thrown away. “And you wash the cherries and let them sit in a bowl, and then bag them.”
Sarah figured each zip-lock plastic bag held about 50 cherries. “I wrote 25 cents on each bag.” And then she peddles them.
“I go out and get my bike, get my little basket, fill it with bags and ride around.” She knocked on neighbors' doors, made her pitch, and sometimes offered a premature donation. “If someone doesn't have the money to pay for them, I give them to them.”
Having a mother who's a nurse at the hospital, and having been a patient herself, Sarah said she knows the hospital “like the back of my hand.”
After her birthday, all her other hospital visits started at the emergency room – once for a cut toe, then for some pesky ear and eye infections, then after consuming too many Tums (“I like berries, and they were berry flavored,” she explained), and finally staying a weekend for treatment of second degree burns after backing into a wood stove.
“Maybe,” she blushed when asked if the accident left scars.
Cherry picking aside, Sarah said she hopes to make Pullman Regional an even bigger part of her life. She hopes to work in the hospital's Red Sage cafeteria as soon as she can, wants to keep visiting her mother there, loves to talk with hospital employees and, upon graduating from high school, plans to attend Walla Walla Community College in Clarkston to study nursing.