Thirty-two-year-old Stephanie Cardace is a physician’s assistant living in Arlington. She works 12-hour shifts in the COVID-19 unit of INOVA Fairfax hospital. She also volunteers her time to help those struggling with hunger.
What is your Jewish background?
My mom’s side is Jewish, my dad’s side is Catholic. I didn’t really grow up with a religion in the home. We celebrated Chanukah and Passover and really that was it. I didn’t get more involved in Jewish life until after college when I moved back to the D.C. area and started going to events through the [Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center] and Sixth & I.
What led to you getting more involved in Jewish life?
I think I just became more curious about my background and I was looking to join a group of people to make new friends and to learn more about Jewish culture. Once I saw all the different programming that was available in D.C. I was like, there’s so many different things that I can do.
Over the years, there’s been different events and things that I’ve done through GatherDC and Washington Hebrew Congregation. My roommate in grad school was Jewish, so seeing her family celebrate the Jewish holidays made me really want to have a stronger background.
What has it been like working in a COVID-19 unit?
I work at INOVA Fairfax hospital, and at first it was really just overwhelming in that everyone was sick. I’m used to taking care of very sick patients. I work in surgical oncology and general surgery, but when every single person on the unit all has the same thing and they’re all very sick from the same thing, it’s a very daunting task. Once I was used to the algorithm and the care that was required for each patient, you get into a routine.
What was the transition like from the oncology unit to the COVID-19 unit?
I normally work during the day, but in the COVID unit I was working nights and that’s a longer shift than I’m used to. That was a 12-hour shift and I usually work 10 hours. But my total number of hours per week weren’t necessarily more.
I know you do a lot of volunteer work. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
One of the resident doctors that I work with, her family and my friend made shields and masks and I helped ship those to people across the country that did not have PPE [personal protective equipment] in the beginning [of the pandemic]. I have volunteered with the DCJCC for about seven years now and I’ve volunteered at the Arlington Food Assistance Center for six years now. Now that it’s COVID, I haven’t been doing the same volunteer work I normally do. I’m also on the alumni board of directors for James Madison University.
At the JCC, I’ve done different volunteer events through Hunger Action and I’ve helped at Christmastime with gift wrapping and I’ve volunteered the last four Christmas days. Last year, I led a group to serve a meal at a veteran shelter in Southeast D.C. I also participated in Mitzvah May, which is through the DCJCC. I’ve done different events through Sips and Suppers, benefiting Martha’s Table. I’ve also volunteered with No Kid Hungry, which is a national organization. With the Arlington Food Assistance Center, I help on bagging nights, bagging food for clients, and I work on distribution nights when families come and get their groceries for the week.
Is there a reason your volunteer work is mostly related to hunger?
I think that hunger and poverty is something that is oftentimes overlooked, especially here in the D.C. area, because there’s such a great amount of wealth. But there’s also such a great amount of hunger. And I love cooking. I love food, so I want people to have good, nutritious meals.