For more than a decade, Austinite Becky Nichols has been feeding nurses, doctors, families and young patients at Dell Children’s Medical Center and the nearby Dell Children's Blood & Cancer Center.
She drops off mac and cheese, chicken pot pies and even birthday cakes for kids who are celebrating their big day in the hospital.
Nichols’ daughter, Libbie, spent years in and out of treatment for leukemia when she was a little girl. Libbie died on Good Friday in 2004 at the age of 5, just a few months shy of finishing kindergarten.
It was a heartbreak that inspired Nichols to start the Loving Libbie Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit that allows her to give back to other parents and families whose children have serious medical issues. In 2006, Nichols started a cafe in West Lake to pay for the donated food. She later closed the cafe and opened a food truck, and last year she launched a line of macaroni and cheese in H-E-B.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, Nichols has been finding new ways to give back.
Last week, she dropped off half a dozen cases of macaroni and cheese at Dell so their staff could stock up the fridges, but her main mission has been putting together boxes of grocery essentials to deliver to families with immunocompromised children at home.
"My living room looks like a grocery store right now," she says. "Toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, hand-washing soap, cans of tuna and chicken, jars of pasta sauce, bags of pasta. Someone donated seven boxes of Girl Scout cookies."
Nichols also packs arts and crafts. Markers, sidewalk chalk, coloring books. Whatever the kids and families might want to do while they are stuck at home.
"I’m trying to do my part in whatever way I can so patient families don’t have to go to the store," she says.
Nichols disinfects everything delivered to the families’ homes and the medical centers. She remembers what it’s like to be the parent of a child who is particularly susceptible to infection.
"(Worrying about germs constantly) is how they live their lives every day," she says.
Nichols has a network of families who have been in and out of treatment in recent years, and the clinic also helps her connect with families in need. "I’ll make as many of these boxes as I’m asked to do."
In the past few weeks, Nichols has added another stop on her delivery route: H-E-B.
Nichols was part of H-E-B’s Quest for Texas Best competition in 2018, and although she didn’t win, the grocery store started carrying her frozen mac and cheese at stores across the state.
Nichols has been shopping at the South Congress H-E-B since 1990. She’s also a regular at the Riverside store, and for the past two weeks, she’s been delivering dozens of breakfast tacos several times a week to both stores, using eggs, bacon and tortillas.
"H-E-B has done so much for me, in little ways and in big ways and surprising ways, this felt like the least I could do," she says.
The tacos have made her something of a hero at the stores. Employees, many of whom she knows by name now, made a "thank you" sign for her last week.
"This is her H-E-B, and she wanted to do whatever she could to take care of our partners," Collin Miller, the store leader at the South Congress H-E-B, said via email. "Times like this have really shown how great our suppliers are."
Last month, H-E-B announced a $3 million donation to support local nonprofits who are helping the community right now, and although Nichols’ breakfast taco donation comes from her own pocketbook, she applied for a grant to support the Loving Libbie grocery boxes. Within two days, Nichols found out she’d be receiving $5,000.
It’s been more than 15 years since Libbie died, but Nichols says it’s a blessing to continue to say thank you to the staff who helped her during that time and who continue to provide care during a pandemic. "It feels like the least I can do," she says.