Pretzel Medicine

by | May 13, 2014 | Kindness

The rumors had been swirling for months but it still came as a shock when the hospital board announced that our small community hospital would be closing on July 1st.

The hospital had served this working class poor neighborhood of Philadelphia for nearly 100 years but it would soon become another casualty of the health care crisis.

The day after the announcement co-workers walked around in a stunned state of disbelief. And if impending unemployment wasn’t stressful enough, those looking for comfort in the form of their morning soft pretzel found out that pretzels had been eliminated from the cafeteria menu the same day the hospital announced its closure.

For those of you outside the Philadelphia area, let me explain… Soft pretzels are the lifeblood of this city. They are sold in schools, sports arenas, delicatessens and at hundreds of street vendors across town. They are a snack, a meal and a revered tradition. So losing access to soft pretzels is no small matter.

A week later, I decided to cheer up my co-workers by picking up some soft pretzels at a local store in Havertown called Pretzel Boys. I arrived just as it opened so I was the only customer. The tantalizing smells of warm dough, yeast and salt engulfed me. Rows and rows of freshly baked brown-crusted pretzels were packed into cardboard boxes, ready for the day. These are the sights and smells of nirvana for any Philadelphian.

A sign posted on the cash register read, “Ten dollar minimum for credit cards.” Just then it dawned on me that I only had $5 cash in my wallet. So much for planning ahead!

I work inside a large office at the hospital and knew I’d need more than the half dozen pretzels my five dollars would buy. But did I really need 25 pretzels — the only amount of pretzels I could get for $10. A man’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

“Can I help you?”

Distracted and embarrassed by my hesitation, words tumbled out of my mouth, “Ah, yes. I only have $5 but I have a debit card. I’m not sure how many pretzels I need.”

The man nodded like what I just said made sense and so I continued to babble.

“You see, I work at a hospital and it’s closing and they stopped selling pretzels.” As if this explained my previous rambling.

The man’s smile disappeared. “What hospital?”

“Oh, um Northeastern Hospital.”

The pretzel guy looked deeply shocked. “I used to sell medical supplies and that was one of my hospitals. What a shame. They are good people.”

I started to respond but the pretzel guy held up his palm to stop me. Then he turned around and grabbed a box of 25 pretzels and slid them across the counter.

I was stunned by his generosity and started to reach for my wallet, “Oh I can pay. Please let me…” The pretzel guy pushed the box another six inches across the counter and smiled. “Just tell them Joe Sullivan said to do something nice for someone else.”

And so that day everyone in medical records was treated to a soft pretzel. Word spread fast as people came up to my desk asking, “Is it really true? Did you bring in soft pretzels?” It was as if I’d carried in a box of gold.

With each pretzel, I shared the story of Pretzel Boys generosity. Without exception each employee was moved by Joe Sullivan’s words and kind deed. It mattered to them that a stranger cared.

And with every bite of soft pretzel a little bit of healing took place.

Thank you Joe!

Teri Goggin-Roberts


Pretzel Medicine