HOUSTON -- If you ever park in the Texas Medical Center, you know it’s not cheap. The going rate is about $12. For families faced with a lengthy hospital stay, those costs can really add up.
But Kelvin and Christy Dunnam go all over the Medical Center surprising random strangers with their machine that validates parking.
"There’s a need and they had the heart to come around and do something like that. It’s awesome," said Elizabeth Perez, who was visiting Children’s Memorial Hermann after the birth of a grandson.
For families facing long hospital stays, the Dunnams have chips loaded with enough money for several days’ parking.
"It helps out a lot. I had to save a couple of months just for the parking," said Amber Byford, whose daughter faced extensive surgery and treatments to straighten her spine.
The Dunnams pay for all this parking with donations and fundraisers. They got the idea to do this back in 2008, when Kelvin’s Dad spent a month in MD Anderson battling terminal cancer. One day, when Kelvin was leaving the hospital, a stranger in front of him paid for his parking at the garage exit.
"It planted a seed with me," Kelvin Dunnam said. "It changed my day. It improved my outlook that day and it made a big impression on me."
But losing his Dad did not kick the free parking idea into action -- losing Emma did.
"She was our third child, and a couple years ago she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and we wanted to do something to honor her," said Christy Dunnam.
So the grieving parents started their parking charity and named it Emma’s Hugs. They run the Emma’s Hugs charity independently of any hospital in the medical center. Although sometimes recipients believe they are employed by one of them.
"We give out parking in the same spirit that a child gives a hug. You can give it to anyone and you give it without anything being expected in return," said Kelvin.
"It’s just such a beautiful gift. You know, it’s the little things like that that people don’t think of," said Kelly Davis, whose small son was recuperating from surgery on his organs, which were outside his body when he was born.
One day, if you’re in the Medical Center, don’t be surprised to get free parking and maybe a hug from the Dunnams....one of Emma’s Hugs.
To learn more, visit emmashugs.com